It was one of those sunny, blue-sky powder days, with 25 inches of new snow. The avalanche occurred around 10:15 a.m. in a lower area off the resort’s Scott Chair. The slide had a 12-inch crown—relatively small by avalanche standards—but it was enough to sweep two people over treacherous, cliffy terrain and into a heavily treed zone.
Immediately after the slide, ski patrol shut down all back bowls and hike-to zones at Alpine, a mountain known for its far-reaching terrain that feels like the backcountry. Ski patrol and its team of avalanche dogs were on the scene shortly thereafter, conducting a thorough search of the area using beacons, RECCO technology, and probe searches. Placer County Sheriff and Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue responded to the scene as well.
According to a Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows ski patroller who asked not to be named, the victim who was killed, Cole Comstock, 34, of Blairsden, California, died of blunt force trauma. The injured person, who has not been named, suffered lower-leg injuries as a result of a collision with a tree and was transported to a nearby hospital.
By 12:50 p.m., the search was called off. Placer County Sheriff and the Squaw Valley incident report confirmed there were no additional victims.
This marks the 10th avalanche fatality of this season. In-bounds avalanches are rare but not unheard of. This incident comes on the heels of three fatalities in an in-bounds slide at Idaho’s Silver Mountain on January 7. Last winter, a slide killed two skiers off Taos Ski Valley’s in-bounds Kachina Peak.
Although ski patrol conducts avalanche mitigation in-bounds at ski resorts, nothing is guaranteed. “Ski patrol does everything in their power to mitigate the hazard,” said the ski patroller. “But there are always going to be small pockets and if you find those pockets in dangerous areas, that can lead to serious consequences.”
Safety tips to keep in mind: “Wear a beacon, even in-bounds, on big powder days,” he said. “Ski one at a time through steep, high-consequence areas, and evaluate your hazards—if the slope rips, what’s below you?”