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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Apr 2007
    Salt Lake City, UT

    Thumbs down TR (Text): Yesterday's Avalanche

    I wrote this for my webpage in an effort to understand and justify what occurred yesterday on North Baldy.

    While I was never able to justify it in any way, it made me feel a lot better to write it out and I figured I would share it with this community, as many of you were good friends with Heather.

    A little after noon Sam, myself, and about a half-dozen other riders made our way up the Mt. Baldy shoulder in an effort to ski some untracked pow. Sam, myself, a telemarker, and a snowboarder made our way to the North Baldy terrain. As we reached the shoulder area a girl in a pink jacket could be seen making her way down the main part of the run. I decided that the trees would provide deeper snow and made my way another 50 meters down the traverse, while Sam, already too low to reach the Wildcat ridge followed pink jacket’s route down.

    The slide started near the top of “Feel the Glory”, the first open shot past the corner. From a quick look, the crown was three to five feet deep and ran wall to wall. Heather was caught near the bottom of that shot, above the Blond Rock choke. She was swept though the choke, over Burt’s Bush, through Amphitheater, coming to rest in Amphitheater flats.

    From my position in the trees I never fully saw the slide or Heather’s tumble through the North Baldy venue, but as I reached the apron at the bottom of the run I could already see people gathering in the avalanche debris using their skis and poles as makeshift probes.

    As I approached, one of the first volunteers on the scene confirmed what I already was hoping was not true, “We have a confirmed burial. A girl in a pink jacket was swept over.” There was no hesitation, no pausing by anyone to think, no second guessing what happened, instinctively skiers and snowboarders alike begin to clip off their boards and grab poles, skis, and anything that would penetrate the snow and form a probe line.


    At first there was only 10 or 15 of us helping a lone patroller who issued these commands as we marched through clumps of snow praying that we’d find the girl who was buried underneath it. Within five minutes the search party had quadrupled in size and patrollers from Alta were headed over the ridge with makeshift probes to help out as well.

    No one complained, no one stopped working, no one questioned what we were doing, everyone followed the patrollers commands driving metal rods as deep as they could through the snow, sometimes pushing depths of 10 feet. By now there were well over 100 of us checking the area around the Amphitheater Apron hoping we hit something that felt like “punching a pillow.” Racing against the clock, we all pushed forward.

    Then it happened. “I’VE GOT A HIT, I’VE GOT A HIT!” The words made everyone freeze in place. My spine felt like it had turned to stone as I turned and tried to understand what was going on. Within a split second, patrollers began running, grabbing shovels and digging faster than I previously thought possible. In less than 90 seconds a 6 foot by 4 foot by 3 foot hole had been dug in the snow and the shimmer of neon pink reflected around all sides of the pit.

    I have never seen someone so pale in my life. I had been bracing myself for a cold, shivering, and likely unconscious girl to be found in the snow, but the pale white tone of her skin is what shook me the most. I sat petrified for about 10 second before the person I was probing next too brought me back to reality with the chilling thought that there could be more people buried and if we did not keep probing then they might not be found in time.

    It was hard to focus on our task when everyone was worried about how our first rescued girl was doing and the fact that a patroller had been overheard saying that she was still breathing came as a huge comfort to everyone.

    Nearly two hours had passed since the avalanche was trigged by the time the helicopter carrying the girl in the pink jacket left for the University of Utah hospital and patrollers had begun to get hopeful that the avalanche had only swallowed up one skier that day. As I drove home the reports that she was alive and in critical condition were a welcome relief from the much grimmer alternative that many had been suggesting.

    The waiting was the worst part. Sitting around hoping, praying that she would be okay while refreshing news websites and message board threads on my computers waiting for someone to say “she is going to be okay” or “she is going to make it” was the worst part. You want to do something to help. At least when we were probing the knowledge that we were helping in the rescue effort elevated the fear that someone might not survive, but when you are sitting around waiting it is almost impossible not to focus on it.

    I prayed people were wrong. I was hoping that people misunderstood a news article or were jumping the gun without having all the information, but when I finally got a text from a friend who was at the hospital with her I knew the worst had happened.

    Heather Gross passed away just before 5 p.m. on Sunday, December 14. She was 27.

    She managed to stay alive through the burial, the rescue, the flight back to the hospital, but she finally succumbed to her injuries late in the afternoon, nearly five hours after she had been buried. Her friends will remember her for infectious smile and her willingness to ski through the toughest conditions.

    I did not know Heather extremely well, but like all the members of the Snowbird family who ski through rain, sleet, snow, and sunshine her death is a great loss. My heart goes out to her family who I hope can remember the positive things about her during this most devastating Holiday season and to all of us who skied by her side who I hope can remember that even know the risks of what we do are great, the rewards are greater.

    We snowriders are among the luckiest people on the planet. We’ve found a calling in the mountains that provides more joy and good times than anything else. I think it is because of the joy that skiing provides for us that losses like Heather are so unbearable. For many of us the snow is an outlet, our one place to be happy and carefree, and when someone dies pursuing that it becomes hard to find that happiness again.

    When I think about the consequences from skiing, I think of people like Doug Coombs, Billy Poole, Neal Valiton, John Nicoletta, and the many other greats who have given up their lives pursuing the thing they love the most. Now Heather, the girl in pink, is added to that list. Not as someone who died pushing the boundaries of the sport, but as someone who died on a Sunday afternoon when all she wanted to do was ski fresh powder.

    Heather, while you are gone, you will not soon be forgotten. Your death will be mourned by all of us in Little Cottonwood Canyon and we will all remember you on deep days and when we think about the risks we take pursuing the sport and lifestyle we love so much.

    May you rest in peace.

    Last edited by JakeCast; 12-15-2008 at 12:34 PM.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Oct 2003
    Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
    Well written.

    RIP Heather.
    Putting the "core" in corporate, one turn at a time.

    Metalmücil 2010 - 2013 "Go Home" album is now a free download

    The Bonin Petrels

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Mar 2007
    Jet City
    I can honestly say, that I hope to never go through an ordeal such as this. My thoughts go out to all those involved.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Oct 2003
    spitting distance from Mavericks
    Thank you for taking the time to write such a thorough, honest, and thoughtful piece on this. It couldn't have been easy.

    So incredibly sad. My heart goes out to her family and friends and all who knew her.

    RIP, Heather.
    “Within this furnace of fear, my passion for life burns fiercely. I have consumed all evil. I have overcome my doubt. I am the fire.”

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Dec 2003
    Jake- thank you for sharing that with us.

  6. #6
    BSS Guest
    Wow, man. What a terrifying thing to be a part of. That was really well written, thank you for sharing. I can't even imagine what her family is going through right now.

    Hopefully someone, somewhere, will learn something from this. This is the real thing, folks. Scary stuff.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Nov 2008
    Droppin' in ten!
    Man...that was well written and touching!

    ++++ vibes to you man and all those touched by this incident!
    Quote Originally Posted by splat View Post
    It's the same argument for prostitution. There's a lot of people in this world who won't be getting laid unless they pay big bucks or fuck an artificial life form. No amount of consolation, pity or comiserating is going to change that reality.
    Slaughter is the best medicine.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Mar 2008
    InDaPow, CO
    Very well written. When tragic things like this happen, it simply cannot be justified. She died doing something we all do or strive to do, so sad.

    Heather, may you Rest in Peace.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Oct 2003
    so, so sad. condolences to all involved.
    you sketchy character, you

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Oct 2003
    new JERSEY
    Incredibly sad. Condolences to all and Jake, you take care of yourself. You did what you could.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Dec 2004
    Betty Ford Clinic
    Thank you Jake for sharring this. You did well.

    I know we all don't agree on everything around here(forums) but, I feel strongly that we are all watching each others back out there when it counts.

    My condolences to all of Heathers friends and family.

    She was well loved and liked by many.
    Last edited by Duke; 12-15-2008 at 01:08 PM.

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Dec 2005
    The Wet Coast
    Nicely done, Jake. These events can be very hard on the first responders. Understand that, take some time, write some more, and then go skiing again.
    Facts are simple and facts are straight
    Facts are lazy and facts are late

  13. #13
    Join Date
    May 2007
    Sandy, Utah
    Jake thanks VERY much for sharing.

    While I didnt know Heather, like others my condolences go out to her entire family.

    Her spirit will always be over us when skiing high baldy.

    RIP Heather.

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Well put . . .condolences to all . . .

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Jan 2005
    Jagoff City
    Well written Jake....thanks.
    Courage + believe = life. Life is not about how many breaths you take. It's what you do with those breaths

  16. #16
    Join Date
    Nov 2003
    Thanks Jake...
    "True love is much easier to find with a helicopter"

  17. #17
    Join Date
    Oct 2004
    Thanks for the write up.

    Do you know if she triggered the slide or did someone above or unknown?

  18. #18
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Sandy, Utah.
    It was triggered way above her. Heather was a special person. Great write up, I'm having a hard time putting anything into words. The last memory I have of her was laughing together at her sweet recovery just before starting down the run. She likely passed away immediatly after being hit by the slide and didn't suffer much.

  19. #19
    Join Date
    Jan 2007
    that's to bad to hear...


  20. #20
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    well written and chilling to read. I can only imagine what you and everyone involved must be going through right now. major vibes to all of you and to heather's family.

    I posted a PSA and C/Ped this text with a link back to this thread on BackcountryAgenda. Are you ok with this? I didn't want to step on any usage toes here. I think it's important for poeple to hear and realize what actually goes on during something like this.
    Last edited by OverTurn; 12-15-2008 at 02:48 PM.

  21. #21
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    In a parallel universe
    Well expressed.
    Truly a sobering account with a sad ending.
    Condolences to all that knew and loved Heather.

  22. #22
    Join Date
    Aug 2007
    United States of Aburdistan
    Should I post my version here? i don't want to start another thread.

  23. #23
    Join Date
    Feb 2004
    3,698 sad.
    I french kissed Kelly Kapowski.

  24. #24
    Join Date
    Oct 2006
    Uber Alles California
    Nice write up, very sad
    Hello darkness my old friend

  25. #25
    Join Date
    Nov 2005
    Redwood City and Alpine Meadows, CA
    Very well said, Jake.

    I've often thought about how I'd deal with that situation, particularly if the buried skier were someone I knew, let alone one of my kids. I came to the conclusion that the only thing worse than helping find the person would be to be there, but standing helpless because I didn't have a clue what to do. You did what you could, and that helped give her a chance.
    not counting days 2016-17

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