Snowbird, UT – It has been confirmed that the 38-year-old man who died in an avalanche at Utah’s Snowbird Ski & Summer Resort on Sunday was professional skier Jamie Pierre.
Pierre, a Utah resident and a Minnesota native, was snowboarding when he triggered an avalanche just after 3 p.m. Sunday afternoon in what’s known locally as South Chute but is listed on the Snowbird trail map as Barry Barry Steep. The slide swept Pierre over a cliff band. He was not buried by the debris field but apparently died of trauma.
Pierre is best known for achieving the world record for the highest cliff jump on skis, a 245-foot drop in the backcountry behind Grand Targhee Resort in Wyoming for a film by Teton Gravity Research.
Snowbird isn’t scheduled to open for the season until next Saturday, Nov. 19. Because of that, conditions in the area at this time are akin to those found in uncontrolled backcountry terrain. The Utah Avalanche Center (UAC) on Sunday morning rated the avalanche danger in the area as “considerable,” possibly moving into “high” during the day as the region’s latest snowstorm was winding down.
“The combination of higher density snow and gusty wind were the perfect combo for slab formation over our pre-existing weak early season snow. Collapsing has been a consistent comment in backcountry observations all week and continued yesterday,” UAC avalanche forecaster Brett Kobernik wrote Sunday morning. “The hard part will be to curb our enthusiasm for early season powder. We want to go where the snow coverage is the best but these are the most likely spots to take a ride in an avalanche.”
According to a preliminary report filed Sunday night by the UAC, Pierre was riding with a partner at Alta Ski Area, also not yet open for the season, when they decided to access Snowbird via Mount Baldy and likely triggered another small slab avalanche en route. While his friend looked on, Pierre dropped into the 40-degree pitch of South Chute and immediately triggered the avalanche, which carried him for hundreds of feet and over a small cliff band. According to the UAC, while Pierre was not buried by the slide, neither he nor his partner were carrying avalanche rescue gear.
The UAC report lists the avalanche crown at 16 inches deep and 150 feet wide. It ran for 400 vertical feet.
Five slides were reported in Little Cottonwood Canyon on Sunday by the Utah Avalanche Center. In addition to the avalanche that killed Pierre, two skiers were caught in a slide on Little Chute, on the northeast face of Mount Baldy at Alta, but were uninjured. Another, an unidentified 44-year-old man, sustained fractured femur in an avalanche on Gunsight at Alta.
Because they are not yet open for the season, neither Snowbird nor Alta have yet to conduct avalanche control work this winter. Alta closed its terrain to uphill travel following today’s string of avalanches. The UAC will travel to the scene on Monday to complete its investigation.