The First Avalanche “Save” in the East! Angel Slides Avalanche Accident 2-12-2022

Angels Slide Avalanche Accident 2/12/2022
Skier 2 after being fully buried for around 15 minutes after being rescued by his partner who was also buried in the avalanche this past Saturday. Photo courtesy of Adirondack Community Avalanche Observations (

This past Saturday around 1 pm history was being made on Angel Slides in the Adirondack mountains of upstate New York. Two skiers triggered a large avalanche that partially buried one and completely buried the other. As luck would have it one of the skiers was able to free himself from the snow in about 5 minutes. Using their avalanche transceiver they located their partner, buried nearby under 4 to 5 feet of snow. Unconscious and faintly breathing he regained consciousness while his rescuer continued to extract him from the snow. Ultimately they were both uninjured and they made their way back to the trailhead under their own power and reported the incident to a park employee.

Angel Slides Avalanche Accident
2/15/2022 The ski pole marks the hole where the second skier was dug out, the full path crown line is visible at the top of the path. Photo courtesy of Adirondack Community Avalanche Observations (

And with that the first ever avalanche accident “save” was made in the Eastern US.

I use the word “save” to describe an incident where an avalanche victim is completly buried by an avalanche and recovered alive (and survives). This has never happened in the East, but I knew it was coming. Before 2019 I would often point out to my avalanche course students the interesting fact that no one had ever been buried in an avalanche in the East while wearing an avalanche transceiver. I would suggest that trend would change as more backcountry travelers were carrying the right equipment and it would only be some time before one of us found ourselves in the dark under the snow. Would we have a partner nearby who would be able to get to us in time?

The first person to be fully buried in the East with a transceiver on was Nicholas Benedix on April 11th, 2019. Nicholas survived for over two hours buried in Raymond Cataract on Mount Washington, but ultimately succumbed to hypothermia, a tragic and unique part of the history of avalanche accidents in the East. It would take less than two years before we would have a second person fully buried in an avalanche with a transceiver on. On February 1st, 2021 Ian Forgays was buried by a wind slab he triggered in Ammonoosuc Ravine, also on Mount Washington. Neither of these victims suffered trauma in their avalanches, but like Nicholas, Ian was traveling alone and therefore had no one near him to make the “save”.

With these two recent full burial accidents I’ve been suggesting to my students it is only a matter of time before we have a save. I would have put my money on the first East Coast save occurring on Mount Washington given the terrain and amount of visitation, but this moment in avalanche education goes to Wright Peak, in the Adirondacks.

Angel Slides, Wright Peak, Adirondack Mountains, New York

Avalanche Accident on Angel Slides
The accident occurred on the right most slide, which was created during hurricane Irene in 2011. Photo courtesy of Adirondack Community Avalanche Observations (

The Angel Slides are a series of three slides on the eastern flanks of Wright Peak, elevation 4,587 feet. According to The Adirondack Slide Guide: An Aerial View of The High Peaks Region, 2nd Edition by Drew Hass, Tropical Storm Irene (2011) created the far looker’s right slide path which was the path triggered during this accident. According to the path is about 1,100 feet long, 170 wide, drops 608 feet with an average angle of 31 degrees and a max angle of 43 degrees, and is a North East aspect.

Avalanche Accident, Angel Slides
Imagery from Google Satellite via

It should be noted that the only avalanche fatality known in the Adirondacks occurred on these slides, specifically the widest of the three, during February 2000, when Toma Vracarich and three friends were caught and carried. According to the Adirondack Almanac, all three of his friends were injured in the slide. He died beneath the snow and the slides were subsequently named the “Angel” slides. He was 27 years old.

Another reference of this accident from the American Alpine Clubs publication

Forecasting Issues

Unlike the Presidential Range in the White Mountains of New Hampshire the High Peaks of the Adirondacks do not have an avalanche forecasting center. The New York Department of Environmental Conservation sometimes issues an early season “avalanche warning” but it is basically just an awareness statement with some links to learning about avalanches. Occasionally the National Weather Service issues an avalanche warning for the White Mountains Region. These warnings usually occur during obvious signs of danger like huge storms that dump two to three feet of snow in a short period of time but I haven’t heard if the NWS has ever done that for the Adirondack Region. Regardless these warnings don’t take the place of mid-season monitoring of the snowpack that occurs in a forecasted area like the one covered by the Mount Washington Avalanche Center.

To help with this information gap a couple community minded backcountry enthusiast’s have created the Adirondack Community Avalanche Observations website where backcountry travelers can submit observations made while out recreating. This is a great resource for the Adirondack community and it was just started about a month ago!

Another contributing factor to this accident is the type of avalanche they were dealing with. The followup investigation conducted by members of the Adirondack Community Avalanche Observations Team indicate that this was a Persistent Slab avalanche problem. This type of avalanche problem is not as common in our Maritime climate as it is in our Transitional (Utah) or Continental (Colorado) climates. When you have early season snow that is exposed to prolonged cold temperatures it can become very loose, “faceted”, and basically weak in structure. Then, as winter really arrives and subsequent snow storms bury that “rotten” layer of snow it can lie in waiting for weeks, sometimes months, for a trigger (us) to come and collapse that weak layer. We’ve been hearing this happen in this season’s snowpack in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York. It’s the awe inspiring “whumpf” heard when the layer collapses. In a flat field it’s a cool part of snow science to observe. On a slope approaching 30 degrees in steepness it’s a dreaded warning, like the shrill rattle produced by a threatened rattlesnake, it is the mountain telling us it’s about to bite.


History has been made in the East in regards to avalanche incidents. With no one else in the area two skiers survived a near death experience. The second hand account I received of the first skier, Bryan, regaining consciousness while choking on snow and partially, or fully buried just under the surface of the snow, conjured up an image in my head of an angel reaching down and brushing just enough snow away from his face for him to regain awareness, rescue himself, and then go on to rescue his partner. Remarkably and with out injury, these two survived an experience that could have easily gone south. Angel Slides was given its name after the passing of Toma Vracarich there in 2000. Maybe Toma was the one who brushed the snow away from Bryan and gave him a second chance? Or maybe it was just luck. Either way this is a story that could not have had a better ending, and I’m grateful it’s being told.

Disclaimer: All information above was gathered from reports the victims submitted themselves and the report linked below. I have not spoken with either of the victims so there could be errors in my reporting. If I’m able to talk with with them I will update this post with more information.

Other Media:

Angel Slides 2/12/2022 Incident Report prepared by Nate Trachte and Caitlin Kelly, of Adirondack Community Avalanche Observations

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Washington, Willard, Washington, Cathedral, and nights thinking about avalanches…

It’s been a fun filled 4 days with two ascents of Mount Washington, a multi-pitch ice climbing day at Willard, and a half-day of ice climbing with the excellent kids of Brooks School from North Andover, MA at the North End of Cathedral. Winter is in full swing and I have a day off tomorrow to attend to the less exciting things in life like laundry & dump runs but I’m looking forward to some multi-pitch ice on Thursday and a booked avalanche course for Sat-Sun-Mon.

Lately every day brings another couple inches of snow to Washington and we have an excellent outdoor classroom to run a course right now. Given the latest headline news of a couple young US Ski Team hopefuls (one quite local)  losing their lives in an avalanche last week in Austria and another recent fatality in Silverton, CO I’ve been thinking a lot about the White Mountain Avalanche Fund set up by the US Forest Service and how I might be able to liaison between EMS Schools and this fund to get some potential “at-risk” high-school students into an AIARE 1 course next winter. Juniors & Seniors at high-schools with strong ski teams are the most likely to be entering avalanche terrain soon after High School and establishing some solid decision making skills at this critical age could hopefully help prevent some of these tragedy’s in the future.

EMS Schools Management is behind the idea so my next step is to find point of contacts at regional high-schools with strong ski programs. Kennett & Fryeburg Acadamy are most local, but the abundance of private high-schools with great ski programs in NH is quite long, and it will take some research to make sure the right people are aware of this educational, potentially life saving, opportunity. My goal right now is to have at-least 1 AIARE Course next winter comprised of 12 high-school students most likely to ski in avalanche terrain in the years following their graduations.

So far this year we have had 4 in country avalanche fatalities, plus the 2 out of county, compared to 5 in country this time last year. The more sobering statistic is we had 35 fatalities last season… there is a lot of winter left! If anyone reading this has the names or email addresses of High School Ski Program Directors in NH/ME/VT please let me know, this recent tragedy can be turned into a catalyst of preventive education if we can connect the right people to the right resources…

See you in the mountains,


P.S. Contest running until 1/31/15 for two brand new ice screws. Simple to enter. Like North East Alpine Start on Facebook for 1 entry, follow/subscribe to this blog for a second entry (link is top right).  Winner announced on 2/2/15.

Mount Washington Avalanche Center issues first General Advisory’s

The Mount Washington Avalanche Center issued it’s initial General Advisory for the 2014/15 season a few days ago on December 6th. The current Winter Storm Warning has prompted an update today. Monday also saw the first reported human triggered avalanche of the season;

“A climber was descending Yale Gully when he triggered a small avalanche below him. He later triggered another small pocket at the top of the fan which took him off his feet.” -MWAC

Here is a shot one of the USFS Rangers took last Friday of Yale:

Yale Gully- photo courtesy of MWAC
Yale Gully- photo courtesy of MWAC

Not much snow up there right? Early season snow packs can be deceiving. The final words of an avalanche bulletin, even a general advisory, can carry some important clues;

“Don’t let the lack of a danger rating lull you into complacency. Traveling through small snowfields can put you into or underneath unstable snow, and all of these pockets are going to be subjected to additional load over the course of the next few days.”- Jeff Lane, Snow Ranger

UPDATE 12/10/14: Please see additional information from this incident with a first hand account of what happened here.

Have you put fresh batteries in your beacon yet? Now is a great time to get outside with you partners and run through some rescue drills. Remember it’s the people you tour with that will give you the best chance of surviving a mistake!

Also, if you have procrastinated signing up for an avalanche course you might want to do so today. Out of 7 scheduled courses we are already sold out of seats for 4. That leaves only 3 courses to chose from and it is not even Christmas yet! Go here to find out more and sign up!

See you on the mountain,


First Avalanche Course of the Season, and first Avalanche Accident

It’s a somber coincidence that during the first day of this season’s Eastern Mountain Sports Schools Avalanche Course season we would have our first avalanche accident of the season occur on Mount Washington. Hours after finishing our first day of mixed classroom and companion rescue field sessions a Mountain Rescue Service call-out informed me there had been two people caught in an avalanche in Tuckerman Ravine. Over the next couple of days details would emerge as to what happened. Much has already been covered by the mainstream media. Some of that coverage can be found here:

While I originally wanted to blog about how this first avalanche course went, I can’t stop thinking about this accident (and the likely future accidents this season) and want to spend my efforts addressing a couple of issues I struggle with.

How can we, as a climbing community, raise the collective bar as to what is responsible travel in the mountains?

This is not a new issue. Mount Washington has a long (perhaps the longest) history in the US of being under-estimated and deadly. Read the book “Not Without Peril” if you are interested in some of the more illustrious stories of mishaps on the mountain.

It would be tough to argue that any other mountain sees more un-skilled travelers on a yearly basis with little “mountain sense”. Some of the reasons for this are obvious; it’s relatively low elevation and accessibility to a huge portion of the US population. Other reasons are more subtle. It’s clear that hikers/climbers push on in adverse conditions when they would not on any other mountain, instead relying on the closed summit buildings and weather observers, and the closed auto road, to provide a margin of safety that might allow them to still bag the summit (but then need help getting back down).

What frustrates me is the amount of education available to the general public that seems to get ignored on a daily basis. Detailed mountain weather forecasts, professional avalanche bulletins, trail information specialists, qualified guide services… all at our finger tips but often not taken into consideration for a climb on this mountain that has seen so many accidents.

Before I go further and people start thinking I am just wagging my finger I recently read, and shared, a great blog post on “Changing the Culture of Shame“. The message is when we, the climbing community, play “Monday morning quarterback” and start saying “That would never happen to us they were reckless, etc. etc.” we discourage the victims from taking ownership of their ordeal, sharing their experience, and helping other’s learn from their mistakes. I agree with this sentiment to a point, by I also think complete absolution from blatant mistakes inhibits the same potential positive outcomes of an accident.

In reading all the reports on this accident in the various regional news papers and watching video blogs a common theme presented itself. The media often romanticizes these victims in their stories. Some of the titles would probably elicit a hometown hero’s welcome. A few media outlets, especially the local ones, were more accurate in their stories;

“The hikers triggered an avalanche” vrs  “The hikers were caught in an avalanche”.

There’s a big difference in these two statement in terms of responsibility, but avalanche awareness (or lack of) wasn’t the root cause of this accident. Lack of general mountain sense was.

The group split up due to impending darkness and lack of headlamps. They did not have map & compass (and by inference the ability to use them). While not a major contributing factor they had inadequate footwear and traction for climbing Mount Washington this time of year. The media has been referring to them as “hikers” instead of “climbers”, to the approval of many vocal online climbing forums, but this is an issue of semantics. Basically they were somewhat prepared (ice axe, goggles, proper clothing), but lacking “essentials”, navigation skills, team work, communication, “mountain sense”.

Whether we call them hikers or climbers it doesn’t matter. They were woefully under-prepared and made bad decisions recognizable by the vast majority of the climbing community. But I’m not sure what the best way to reduce the amount of these type accidents. My gut tells me we are in for a tough winter with already 5 Mountain Rescue Service calls before the New Year; we are well ahead of average. Every year our avalanche accidents seem to increase.

I’ve changed my previous opinion that charging for rescues can be an effective deterrent. Education, it seems should be the best option. Education has increased driver safety, lowered STD transmission, reduced teen-pregnancy and drug use, it should be able to help keep us safer in the mountains. But there is a resistance to education in the mountains. It’s ironic, as there are more guide services, independent guides, outdoor education programs, online resources, climbing clubs, etc. than there has ever been. Yet the overall culture is not changing fast enough. Everyone, from the victims, the rescuers, the media, and fellow climbers, need to ask themselves how they can help shift the balance to a more responsible use of the mountains. The answer for each will undoubtedly be different, but important.

The photos from this weekend’s avalanche course:

Avalanche Course info and dates for the rest of the season are here:

As the last hours of 2013 are upon us take a quick inventory of your skill set in the mountains. What do you need to brush up on? What resolutions can you make for a productive, safe, fun 2014 climbing/skiing season?

Thanks for reading, please subscribe at the top right if you’d like to follow the progression of avalanche courses I’ll be facilitating this season.

Happy New Year!