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 Oregon Mountaineering Association
131 NW 4th St. # 258; Corvallis OR 97330
oma@i-world.net
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Oregons Avalanche History

For the 25 years between 1985 and 2010 Oregon ranks 10th among the US states for avalanche fatalities, with eight fatalities. The states ranking higher are: CO, AK, UT, WA, MT, ID, WY, CA and NH. For the eleven year period ending April 2006 there was one fatality in Oregon while 445 avalanche-related deaths occurred throughout North America. This is based on statistics from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC). [In the spring of 1999 there was a climbing accident on Mt Hood on the Cooper Spur which is listed as an avalanche incident by the NWAC in Seattle but not by the CAIC or by avalanche-center.org, which concluded that the avalanche resulted from the climbers falling.]

The seven fatal incidents from the 1985 through 2010 seasons (with number of victims) are:

2010/01/02 - 1 - Central Oregon - Paulina Peak, Snowmobiling
2009/03/08 - 1 - Eastern Oregon - Wallowa Mountains - Skiing
1999/01/29 - 1 - Eastern Oregon - Blue Mountains, Spout Spings Ski area
1998/05/31 - 1 - Mt Hood - Climbing, West Crater Rim, Mazamas
1993-1994 - 2 - No Details available
1993/02/22 - 1 - Central Oregon - Todd Lake, Skiing/Snowboarding
1989/02/19 - 1 - Mt Hood - Ski Patrol Director at MHM

The total number of known fatalities since records have been kept is 12. The ones from before 1985 are from the Snowy Torrents book series, volumes 1-4. It is not known if this includes all Oregon fatalities or if there were some that were omitted.

1982/06/20 -1 - Mt Hood - Climbing, Leuthold Couloir
1982/02/14 -1 - Eastern Oregon - Wallowa Mountains, Skiing
1975/04/26 -1 - Mt Hood - Climbing, White River Canyon, Mazamas
1959/06/20 -1 - Mt Hood - Climbing, Standard Southside Route

Looking at all twelve known fatalities by location there were 5 on Mt Hood and 3 in eastern Oregon, 2 in Central Oregon, and the other two are unknown. By activity, 4 of the 12 were climbing related (all on Mt Hood), 4 were backcountry skiing/boarding on small slopes, one was a snowmobiler, one was a working ski patroller, and two are unknown. By season, all four climbing deaths were in spring on or after April 26 (with three essentially in June) while the skiing/boarding deaths as well as the ski patroller and the snowmobiler were mid-winter.

Summaries of Fatal Accidents:

The most recent three, in addition to the first one below, have reports online and there are links above.

1998-05-31: The group of Mazamas was composed of beginning climbing class graduates and one leader with significant climbing experience. Weather, terrain, snowpack and group dynamics all played obvious roles. One rope team of three people was caught - one died, one had serious trauma injuries including a broken pelvis, and the third had an ankle fracture. The leader was unroped at the time and also suffered minor ankle and shoulder injuries. There is more information in the news section in a report filed there. That report also links to the avalanche-center.org report.

1993-94 Season: Records show 2 fatalities but nothing about them is known to us at this time. We don't know if it was from one incident or two separate ones. This time frame is later than the Snowy Torrents series but too early for the avalanche-center.org archives.

1993-02-22: This incident involved 3 young people (21, 22, 24) who were trying to film some skiing/boarding on the short but steep (50 degree) slopes to the west of the Todd Lake turn-off. These slopes are subject to wind loading. They had no safety equipment. One avoided burial (barely) and one had a foot visible. Passers-by assisted the unburied person with digging the other two out. One man, John Glorioso, died before they could recover him. These slopes are small and self-rescue could have been successful had the group carried proper equipment.

1989-02-19: The ski patrol director at Mount Hood Meadows was buried five feet deep in an avalanche. He died seven hours later in the hospital as a result of chest injuries and the lack of oxygen to his brain during his burial. He had been ski-cutting a slope in an area closed to the public, along with two patroller partners.

1982-02-14: A group of eight experienced backcountry skiers was snow camping in northeastern Oregon. The snowpack consisted of a hard melt/freeze crust under light low-density snow with recent heavy snow on top. The group recognized the dangerous conditions and agreed to avoid recognizable avalanche terrain. Two skiers went looking for a small slope and found one which was gladed with trees but was a leeward slope. The woman was waiting in thicker trees while the man went out into the area they would ski. The slope fractured above the two of them and the woman was buried. The group all had beacons and these two wore theirs, but they had not brought their shovels from camp. Despite a successful beacon search it took over an hour to get the woman out from under 2 meters of snow and it was too late. Note that the snowpack in eastern Oregon is much different from the that of the maritime Cascades. Details are in report 82-08 in Snowy Torrents, Volume 4 (1980-86).

1982-06-20: A group of nine climbers set out for Leuthold Couloir on Mt Hood. Two turned back. While they were in the couloir a large avalanche came down from above and caught one rope team of three. Fortunately the other team was off to the side of the avalanche in a rest spot. This was a large avalanche that included ice and rock as well as snow, a result of very warm temperatures and recent rainfall. One climber was killed by the crushing action of this type of avalanche. One was partially buried and one managed to end up on top, both of these were injured. Details are in report 82-16 in Snowy Torrents, Volume 4 (1980-86).

1975-04-26: About 50 Mazamas were participating in a basic mountaineering class near Timberline Lodge. They split into four groups, one of which went to White River Canyon. They had problems with post-holing in fresh snow so decided to cross to the other windward facing side of the canyon (from the leeward side they were on). On the descent down into the canyon the lowest rope team was caught in an avalanche, as well as the first person on the second descending team above. The second rope team was pulled down the slope and its first person along with the three on the first rope were buried. Three were quickly recovered from shallow burials by following the rope. The fourth was buried deeply and could not be rescued in time. The weather on the day of the accident was nice, but 15 inches of snow had fallen in the previous 2-3 days. Accumulations would have been significantly deeper on the leeward slope. The avalanche entrained only the new storm layer of snow. Apparently they did not have self-rescue equipment. Beacons were not so common in 1975, but shovels would have helped speed the recovery of the last person. Details are in report 75-15 in the out-of-print Snowy Torrents, Volume 3 (1972-79).

1959-06-20: A large group of Explorer Scouts were climbing the south side route on Mt Hood. Conditions were good but they were descending after noon and the snow was softening. The accident happened just after 1pm and caught the next to last rope team, with five people. They were traversing around the bergshrund when an avalanche of snow and ice came down from above and swept them into the crevasse. The last one to be recovered made it to the hospital but died about 30 min after arriving there. Climbers in the area (on the hogsback and the route) improvised the rescue from the crevasse, which snow continued to pour into at time. Details are in report 59-04 in the out-of-print Snowy Torrents, Volume 1 (1910-66), which is interesting reading.

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