January 7, 2021 Martha’s Bowl Avalanche
Today, we had a close call with an avalanche. No one was caught, buried or injured, but it gave us a good scare. We unintentionally remotely triggered a D2 avalanche in Martha’s Bowl in Big Cottonwood Canyon as we were skinning across the flats below.
As we were heading to our objective, we approached a zone where the skintrack went underneath a steep , northwest facing slope. Naturally, our group of three spread out with Rob in the lead. At the end of the traverse underneath the rocky cliffs, Rob skied down a small slope on the previously set skin track. None of us heard or felt a collapse or whoomp or any noise at all, but we looked up at the steep face and saw it break into pieces above us. Adam yelled “avalanche” and we all shuffled to get into a safer place.
Seeing the avalanche start, I quickly realized the crack in the crown was spreading hundreds of feet across the slope. Not knowing how far it would go (and knowing from experience that avalanches have a nasty habit of running farther than you think they will), I started to run in my skis with skins on down and away from the slide to get to a safer spot out of the way. As I ran, I fell into a flat depression. I was certain I was going to get buried. I prepared to pull my airbag. Luckily, the slide stopped above us, and no one in our party was caught or buried. If there had been a little more snow or energy behind the slide, we would’ve all been buried.
After we determined we were safe and unscathed, we saw that part of our skintrack was buried 5’ deep. Pine trees were snapped with fresh branches around. As we composed ourselves, we talked about the mistakes we made that led to our error. We determined we had oversights in route planning and communication.
When we share our close calls, we can help make the backcountry safer for everyone. Our team was on the right side of luck today. But today’s forecast read, “I suspect our luck will run out soon.” In Utah’s Wasatch mountains, we have a dangerous snowpack. Prior tracks do not indicate that a slope is stable. As much as we want to rip steep lines in blower powder, it’s going to take some time for the snowpack to heal. I don’t want someone to die when it snows again. We’re in a tricky situation because yesterday’s sun left on a crust on our South facing aspects, so we are pushed to the north facing to find soft snow which harbors the dangerous avalanche layer.
I also want to ask for compassion, kindness and a lack of judgement when you read this report and others so we can help create an inclusive backcountry community where people can share their close calls and accidents with honesty, transparency and free of fear.
For more info about snowpack and conditions, check out:
and read our full observation online: