Avalanche: Turnagain

Location: Cornbiscuit North Face and Southwest Face

Route & General Observations

We intended to ski North Cornbiscuit chutes and potentially Superbowl and over to Goldpan. As we approached Cornbiscuit my partners decided they did not feel comfortable skiing in the Superbowl cirque area and wanted to climb the standard CB uptrack and ski the south/southwest face. We were standing at the split in the skintrack that goes over to the PMS bowl and just decided to keep climbing when the North face of Cornbiscuit ripped out, crossed the valley floor taking out the skintrack in front of us, and filled the creek drainage/terrain trap. We spotted a group of two ahead of us who was just past the slide path. It looked like the person in the back was IN the powder cloud and pulled their airbag. We waited to make sure neither of them were caught.

We thought someone must have been ski cutting it and decided to continue climbing the west face. Who would ski cut something with people in the valley below? We continued climbing and as I approached bench on the west face I heard yelling and saw a large crown on the SW face. A friend who had been leap-frogging us was flagging me to come over to him. We approached and he informed us of the slide on the SW face and to follow him to an area where everyone would regroup to do a headcount. One member of my party stayed on the bench with a radio to act as a spotter for the potential search party. I gave my radio to someone in the search party so they could communicate with the spotter.

Things I Learned:

1. Some people become complacent about avalanche hazard when they see others climbing/skiing in the area. This is the persistent weak layer problem…. it took several people skiing the same slope on the SW face before it slid.
2. Always carry a radio. It was extremely cold and it became problematic for everyone who was waiting for the search effort to end because we were all very cold. We didn’t know if it was safe to go back to the car or if we needed to keep waiting/help and my hands and feet were freezing in the mean time. I have frost nip on my toes from standing there for an hour as my core temperature dropped.
3. We must realize that just because our objective appears to have slid, everything around it that has not slid will potentially avalanche on top of you. If I had been more persistent or convincing, my partners and I WOULD have been caught in the slide on North Cornbiscuit and carried into the creek and potentially buried. We were moments away from crossing that slide path.
4. Be ready with your beacon, shovel, probe, and radio if you are going to recreate in these areas. If you are out there often, I feel like a rescue is a WHEN, not an IF. Human factors are incredibly challenging to mitigate.
5. Listen to your partners. If someone isn’t comfortable with what you are about to do, you need to turn around. Do not try to convince someone to do something outside of their comfort zone/risk tolerance.

I skied a similar aspect on the SW face of Sunburst the day prior without incident. I felt that pushing out onto a similar aspect on a different mountain was within my risk tolerance. I literally said “I would be comfortable skiing anything in this area today”, and was definitely comfortable skiing the Southwest shoulder of Cornbiscuit. Moments later almost the entire mountain came crashing down around us! Lesson learned.

Avalanche Details
If this is an avalanche observation, click yes below and fill in the form as best as you can. If people were involved, please provide details.
Trigger SkierRemote Trigger Yes
Avalanche Type Hard SlabAspect North
ElevationunknownSlope Angleunknown
Crown DepthunknownWidthunknown
Vertical Rununknown  
Avalanche Details

We saw a large avalanche happen on the North side of Cornbiscuit and run into the valley floor below, crossing a skintrack leading over to the PMS bowl uptrack and filling the creek with debris.

Red Flags
Red flags are simple visual clues that are a sign of potential avalanche danger. Please record any sign of red flags below.
Obvious signs of instability
Recent Avalanches?Yes
Collapsing (Whumphing)?No
Cracking (Shooting cracks)?No
Observer Comments

- Recent reported avalanches on Seattle Ridge.
- I saw a recent avalanche from the top of Sunburst the day prior, in the Pastoral glacier area just east of Taylor Pass. It appeared to be a remote trigger or natural since there were no tracks around it.
- Recent natural avalanche in the Superbowl/North Cornbiscuit area which appeared to have occurred during the storm or shortly thereafter.
- Recent avalanche on Twin Peaks visible from the road/Cornbiscuit.
- I noted an unusually large pillowy feature on Taylor Pass and the North face of Magnum the day prior.

Weather & Snow Characteristics
Please provide details to help us determine the weather and snowpack during the time this observation took place.

Cloudy at the road and clear at treeline. 0 degrees at the car. Light breeze.

Snow surface

New light, soft settled powder with a large layer of surface hoar starting somewhere in the trees all the way to the top.