SEATTLE -- An avalanche swept through part of a Washington state ski resort used to access backcountry skiing on Saturday, killing a 60-year-old man and temporarily trapping five others.
The avalanche was reported about 10:50 a.m. in the Silver Basin area of Crystal Mountain, which is located about 85 miles (137 kilometers) southeast of Seattle, said Pierce County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Darren Moss.
The identity of the man who died hasn’t been released, but authorities say he wasn’t breathing after being pulled out of the snow and didn't survive despite CPR efforts by another skier. The other skiers in his group rescued themselves with the help of two witnesses who saw them get swept up by the snow. All were wearing avalanche beacons.
While all of those caught in the avalanche were experienced backcountry skiers, a warning had been issued against skiing in the area, which was just inside the boundaries of Crystal Mountain Resort. The private ski resort determines the conditions but there is nothing that stops skiers from going there because the property abuts public lands in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.
Frank DeBerry, the resort's president and CEO, said all six men held the ski resort’s uphill travel passes, which means they were registered with ski patrol, participated in an orientation on how and where to access backcountry skiing through the resort’s property and were required to check snow conditions prior to their excursion.
“Skiers can travel at will wherever they want in the national forest. They had gone out into the forest but ended up back in bounds (of the resort) where this slide occurred,” DeBerry said
In addition to shutting the area where the slide occurred, the resort earlier in the day closed the Mt. Rainier Gondola because of winds reaching 100 miles per hour (161 kilometers per hour).
The avalanche came amid the season's first major snowfall. The area is under a winter storm warning until Sunday morning, with the National Weather Service saying 12 to 15 inches (38 centimeters) of snow is possible for areas above 2,000 feet (610 meters).
“We’ve had a late start to the season and now we’ve gone from virtually no snow to a giant snow storm. People got excited,” DeBerry said. “We all have to remember that it’s a sport that carries risk.”
Crystal Mountain is the largest ski resort in Washington state, encompassing 2,600 acres (1,052 hectares).