Jackson Hole Snowboarder Dies In Avalanche

Our thoughts go out to family and friends of Michael Kazanjy, 29 who was caught in an Avalanche yesterday out of bounds at Jackson Hole Mountain resort. Be careful out there.


View of Pucker Face Avalanche

From Jackson Hole News:

A Jackson man died Thursday when an avalanche swept him down a steep slope he was snowboarding about a half-mile outside Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.

The avalanche, more than 50 yards wide, buried Michael Kazanjy, 29, at about 12:50 p.m. under 4 feet to 6 feet of snow, according to the Teton County undersheriff. Though Kazanjy was quickly located with a transceiver, and a physician soon arrived, he was pronounced dead at 1:31 p.m.

Two other members of Kazanjy's party who were caught in the slide escaped uninjured, Undersheriff Bob Gilliam said.

After taking the tram to the top of Rendezvous Mountain, Kazanjy and his friends "crossed the fence and opened the gate" at the resort's south boundary "and disregarded several warning signs to get into this area," Gilliam said.

Gates on the resort boundaries allow skiers and snowboarders to reach backcountry terrain not patrolled or controlled by the resort. Signs warn backcountry travelers that dangerous conditions await them on the slopes beyond.

Known as Pucker Face, the east-facing slope at 10,300 feet slid with a crown depth of 48 inches, according to the Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center. The Avalanche Center's preliminary report said the slope's angle was greater than 45 degrees and that Kazanjy was the first person on the slope at the time of the slide.

Gilliam didn't know if Kazanjy died of trauma or of suffocation while under the snow.

A Jackson Hole ski guide was the first to report the slide to ski patrol, said resort spokeswoman Anna Cole. Other skiers also saw it, Gilliam added.

"The incident was witnessed by numerous backcountry travelers including JHMR Backcountry Guides, who were in the vicinity," said a news release issued by the resort.

Cole didn't know who located Kazanjy after the avalanche, but said ski patrollers and other skiers had joined the search for him.

A doctor employed by the resort arrived at the scene "relatively quickly" after the slide, Gilliam said. A helicopter brought a second physician to the scene soon after, but they were unable to revive Kazanjy.

A nearby slope called No Shadows has the same elevation and aspect as Pucker Face but with an angle of less than 40 degrees. It avalanched naturally on Christmas Eve, according to the Avalanche Center.

Ski patrol triggered 46 avalanches inside the resort boundaries the morning of Christmas Eve while preparing the slopes for visitors.

Two feet of snow fell on the resort between Dec. 20 and Dec. 23, according to the Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center.

The fatal slide occurred while the Teton Range was under heightened alert because of the snowfall. Backcountry avalanche conditions were listed by forecasters as "moderate" the day of the slide, down from "high" on Christmas Eve and "considerable" on Christmas Day.

"At the mid and upper elevations, backcountry travelers could trigger recently developed wind slabs up to 30 inches deep in steep, wind loaded terrain," read the 7 a.m. avalanche advisory issued by the Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center. "Faceted snow persists throughout the snowpack and failure could also occur on these deeper layers with slab depths of up to four feet.

"If skies are mostly clear in the afternoon, these slides may become more susceptible to failure on sunlit aspects," the advisory continued. "Moderate hazard is not a green light."

Skies were clear at the time of the avalanche, and what the Avalanche Center described as "strong westerly to northwesterly ridgetop winds" had created wind slabs on leeward slopes.

Forecasters characterized the slide as a soft slab avalanche. They described its size as three out of a possible five, and its destructive potential as three out of five.

Cole and Gilliam were unable to specify precisely how far the slide ran or how wide it was.

Gilliam didn't identify other members of Kazanjy's party, but said some were visiting from California, where he believes Kazanjy was from originally.




Read more in the Jackson Hole News HERE