skier triggered avalanche mid elevation Virginia Lakes

East of Mt. Olsen


Submission Info
Wednesday, February 15, 2017 - 2:30pm
Red Flags: 
Recent loading by new snow, wind, or rain
Obvious avalanche path
Terrain Trap
Avalanche Type: 
Trigger type: 
Crown Height: 
Less than 1 ft
Weak Layer: 
Avalanche Width: 
Near Treeline
10 300ft.
Bed Surface: 
Old Snow
Avalanche Length: 
More detailed information about the avalanche: 


Today I travelled up the low angle, eastern most, north facing flank of the Mt. Olsen Ridge.  I noticed recent wind loading and cornices on the steeper East bowl to my left.  The snow was good the whole way up on north facing and I told myself to stay away from the East bowl because the snow looked funky.  After gaining the ridge, despite my own warning, I still chose to ski the steeper, East slope!  It just looked so much cooler!!  I had been skiing in the area for the previouse 3 days and reports from others all pointed to safe conditions, so I wasn't even really thinking about avalanche, I was just looking for the best snow!  I realized quickly that the snow on the Eastern aspect  was not as good,  a melt freeze crust had formed in the overcast afternoon on top of 8-10 inches of wind loaded snow.  Remembering the wind buffed, textured, butter pow on the more Northern slope I started traversing back to my uptrack.  As a crossed a convex area, I thougt I should just go fast, and thought maybe it would break below me and be just a managable slough.  That is when I got the weird feeling that I was moving, even though when I looked at my feet I was standing still!  I looked up the hill and it finally registered that I was sliding down the hill on a huge slab that had silently broken above me!!  So I quickly chose to point my skis left to try to escape as the slab started breaking apart around my feet. But, I was in the middle of the rapidly accelerating debris and my skis were swep out from under me.  I knew I couldn't recover before I was swept in to the larger trees below, so I pointed my body towards a small tree thinking I could grab on.  I took the tree somewhere near my knee and shin, beacause that's what hurts, and then held on till the snow stopped moving around me.  I watched my poor dog get swept another 40 ft. downhill, amazingly missing any large obstacles.  I did not stick around to study the slope, but the crown was only about 8-10 Inches on rain crust, from last week's high elevation rain.  I was amazed at how quickly the small slab gained momentum and material, and how helpless I felt sliding toward the stand of trees, the terrain trap. 

That should not have happened.  I am emabarrassed about my level of complacancy.  I didn't even see it coming!  I was skiing alone, I should respected the avalanche terrain, I should have heeded the red flags, recognized that what might have been safe yesterday might not be safe today. I also have a new appreciation for even the smallest slides.  The Sierra is a labyrinth of small avalanche zones surrounded by terrain traps.  I and my dog are fortunate to be only tired and bruised. 

Thanks for reading. Be safe out there!! 






Blowing Snow: 
Cloud Cover: 
50% of the sky covered by clouds
Wind Speed: 
Air temperature trend: 
Wind Direction: 
More detailed information about the weather: 

Warm days, snow becoming heavy and wet on sunny slopes, creating crust in the afternoon and cold nights. moderate winds yesterday

Number of People Caught: 
virginia lakes 38° 2' 56.5512" N, 119° 13' 47.3412" W
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