A 44 year old male was skiing in the Lower Snowfields of Tuckerman Ravine when he hit a section of “boilerplate” snow. He slid head-first into the trees suffering a shoulder dislocation and leg injury before coming to rest. He was treated by the USFS Snow Rangers and members of the MWVSP, transported to Pinkham Notch via USFS snow tractor, and transferred to an ambulance.
A 22 year old male snowboarder sustained a laceration to his shin during a fall in the Lip. He apparently fell hard enough to pull his feet out of his boots, which remained firmly attached in his bindings. We believe it was the snowboard that caused the 2” laceration. He was provided bandages by a local guide who was skiing with his children that day and a physician walked with him to the top of the Little Headwall where he was met by a USFS Snow Ranger. He walked down from Hermit Lake under his own power.
A skier who injured his knee while skiing down Hillman’s Highway. His partner was able to assist him out of steep terrain and down to the first aid cache at the bottom of Hillman’s. His injury was assessed by an M.D. with the Mount Washington Volunteer Ski Patrol and stabilized for transportation by USFS snowmobile to Pinkham Notch.
The Lion Head Winter Route is a steep trail where conditions change quickly from day to day or even during the course of a single day. We recommend mountaineering equipment (i.e. an ice axe and crampons) be used for safer travel on this route along with the ability to properly use the equipment. In this instance, the patient had crampons and ski poles rather than an ice axe. For the purposes of arresting a fall in steep terrain, an ice axe is a far more effective tool than ski poles. Prior to these incidents, the Snow Rangers had not responded to any other injured or lost people this winter/spring season.
This was a very warm and busy day with three human triggered avalanches, three head lacerations, and two lower leg injuries. Avalanches were a concern as recent snowfall had developed slabs in lee areas a couple days earlier. These slabs had been subject above freezing temperatures for a full day and night, leading to the Lip, Headwall, and Bowl being posted at Considerable on Friday the 24th and Moderate danger for the 25th. Additionally, the potential for falling ice from the Sluice and Headwall areas was another cause for concern.
The first patient of the day fell in the center Bowl area and injured his lower leg in the fall. One Snow Ranger and one Ski Patroller had to briefly delay hiking to him as a safety measure. When the area became sufficiently clear of traffic, they brought a litter to the patient, loaded him into it, and quickly moved to a safer location for further assessment. The second patient fell in the upper Chute and injured his knee and thigh during the fall. As a safety measure, lookouts were posted above the patient as well as off to the side. Both patients were splinted and transported to Pinkham with the help of numerous bystanders who were willing to help out.
All three head lacerations were bandaged and the patients were able to walk themselves down to Pinkham. One cut the back of his head when he attempted a backflip on a man-made jump in the floor of the ravine. A second fell off a cliff while skiing the left side of the Headwall. The third fell while carrying his skis down a steep section between the Little Headwall and the Lower Snowfields. He slipped and fell into another person’s ski edge, causing a facial laceration.
As mentioned, three human triggered avalanches took place, all in the center Headwall area. This area, as well as the Bowl and Lip (including the Sluice) were rated at Moderate avalanche danger. The avalanche advisory for the day discussed the unusual avalanche issues for the day related to continued warming of recently developed slabs over an older more stable bed surface. Despite the Moderate rating, numerous people were skiing almost every line imaginable in the Headwall area. Just prior to noon, the first slab avalanche was triggered by sluff created as a person attempted to descend the center Headwall. A little more than an hour later a second and slightly smaller slab released farther left of the first slide. This snowboarder was carried with the debris but not buried. The third avalanche involved hangfire that remained between the first two slides; the trigger for this one was able to remain on his board and not be carried with the slide. In addition to the Headwall, we were concerned about stability issues in the Lip and Sluice. Stability was decreasing as the day progressed due to increased melting; however, skier compaction of the Lip from the day before and early on this day helped stabilize this area before the decreasing strength of the slab reached the critical threshold. Somehow, the Sluice did not see any traffic except for a couple riders at the very end of the day. The avalanches that occurred are not the usual type for Mt. Washington. As an example, the second slide released after many people, perhaps up to 30, had already descended the same area that day. Warm slabs can still retain their cohesiveness while the meltwater breaks down their tensile strength. We believe this is what happened to the slabs that released here. In these cases the trigger was human but it also could have been entirely natural.
It is difficult for us, as professional avalanche forecasters, to fully understand the human factors involved in the decisions visitors were making throughout the day. We believe there existed a wide variety of attitudes and perceptions of the hazards on the mountain this day. The vast majority of visitors listened to our advice and made safe decisions. Others listened to our safety messages then allowed other human factors to take priority. There were also some who understood the hazards and willingly chose to accept the risk involved. We also believe there are others who truly did not understand the magnitude of risks they were dealing with. In this case, several key pieces of bulls-eye data existed (i.e. recent avalanche activity in one part of the Headwall gives a clear indication that snow may be unstable on other similar slopes). We are thankful for the relatively low number of injuries on such a busy day and feel lucky that no injuries resulted from the three avalanches. We want to emphasize that our role in Tuckerman Ravine each spring goes beyond helping out those who are injured. We firmly believe that with good information visitors will make better and safer decisions. We are here to provide information and guidance that will help you have a positive experience. Please seek us out anytime you have questions about what hazards exist on a given day!
USFS Snow Rangers and the Mount Washington Volunteer Ski Patrol assisted with four injured visitors. Each patient was able to evacuate themselves without further assistance beyond Hermit Lake. The first patient was a participant in the Inferno pentathlon who fell during the ski leg and dislocated his shoulder. The dislocation was reduced and the shoulder immobilized. The second patient fell while climbing Left Gully, sustaining abrasions to both forearms as a result of his efforts attempting to self-arrest without an ice axe. The third patient fell while climbing above Lunch Rocks. He also dislocated his shoulder; this dislocation was reduced and immobilized for his walk to Pinkham.
The fourth incident of the day is worthy of further analysis. This skier began to descend the Lip in the late afternoon when he realized the surface was much more firm and steep than he had anticipated. At some point before descending, he dropped his ski poles down the Lip, stepped out of his skis, and began to climb back upward to the ridge. He traversed over to the top of the Sluice, where conditions were not much better than in the Lip. Upon descending, he lost control and began a tumbling fall that ended just short of Lunch Rocks. He was able to walk himself down the Snow Ranger Quarters at Hermit Lake where he was examined by Snow Rangers and the MWVSP. It was determined he may have suffered a minor concussion but was otherwise all right. At the request of the caregivers, he returned later in the evening for a follow-up evaluation before spending the night at his shelter. This incident involves a few common hazards we see each spring. First, when the sun begins to set behind the ridge, the snow surface can quickly turn very icy and slick. Second is descending an unknown route without first climbing it to determine its nature. The Sluice is every bit as steep as the Lip, but also has cliffs and a runout into Lunch Rocks making falls especially precarious. Skiing at the top of your ability in unfamiliar terrain without poles and with a large pack can be very challenging; sometimes walking down can be a good option. Kudos to the patient’s friends for encouraging him to get checked out by trained personnel.
A snowboarder caught an edge in the Lip causing him to tumble about 300 feet to the floor of the ravine. The victim tore his ACL during the fall. USFS Snow Rangers and members of MWVSP splinted the injured leg and he was able to walk with assistance to Hermit Lake, where he was loaded into the USFS snowcat for transportation to Pinkham Notch.
Two incidents involving skiers occurred almost simultaneously in Tuckerman Ravine in the late afternoon. At about 4pm, a skier descended the Sluice and as he transitioned into the floor of the Ravine his skis broke through a crust layer causing him to fall. The skier suffered a lower leg injury just below the top of his ski boot. At the time, the AMC caretaker from Hermit Lake and a friend were hiking to the ravine to have a look around. They saw bystanders packaging the skier into a litter retrieved from the Lunch Rocks cache and went to assist. As this party was working their way down the floor of the ravine, another skier fell in Right Gully, injuring his knee. This skier was able to walk to Hermit Lake under his own power while the first skier was brought down via the Little Headwall. USFS Snow Rangers transported both skiers from Hermit Lake to Pinkham Notch Visitor Center by snowcat.
The victim was skiing in the Chute when he was struck on the head and hand by a falling rock. He suffered a soft tissue injury to his right hand. He was assisted by a member of the Mount Washington Volunteer Ski Patrol and a USFS Snow Ranger. This incident took two people 1/2 hour to complete.
The victim fell while skiing on the left side of the Headwall. She somersaulted and fell approximately 100′ injuring her right knee. She was able to make it to Lunch Rocks where she rested and put ice on her knee. While walking out of the Ravine her knee became very swollen and she had difficulty walking. She sought assistance from the Mount Washinton Volunteer Ski Patrol. Her knee was assessed and it was determined she would most likely not be able to walk out to Pinkham. Her knee was bandaged and her leg immobilized. She was transported in a litter down to Pinkham. This incident took 10 people 1 1/2 hours to complete.
The victim fell approximately 500′ while skiing in the Chute and collided with another person’s ski equipment. The victim sustained a laceration on his head and an avulsion on his right forearm. He was treated by members of the Mount Washinton Volunteer Ski Patrol and was able to walk out to Pinkham on his own. This incident took 2 people 1 hour.