Editor's note: The following is an excerpt
Chuting Gallery" Andrew's terrific guide to steep skiing
in the Wasatch Mountains in Utah.
One of the longest, most varied, interesting
and fun chutes in the Wasatch, as well as being one of the biggest
undertakings. The initial 1,700 vertical feet is straight, lined
with beautiful rock, a consistent 40°, wide enough for a
few independent lines and overall some of the best chute skiing
anywhere. You then drop into a roller coaster of aprons, gullies,
corkscrews and dips & drops until the run eventually becomes
an unskiable creek bed. At this point traverse out to the skiers
left and begin some soul searching bushwhacking until you finally
stumble out onto the Little Cottonwood road. A short section
of rope is good insurance for lowering over and around obstacles.
The line starts right at the saddle between
the two peaks that form Twin Peaks (some mixed climbing
may be necessary to get there) and is easy to find.
The run can be approached either by going
up Broads Fork on the Big Cottonwood side (longer but safer),
booting up Tanners and traversing over (recommended) or
going straight up the chute itself (shorter and some bushwhacking).
Since it starts so close to the beginning
of the canyon and isnt easily seen from the Little Cottonwood
road, Lisa Falls is seldom shown on any of the ski touring maps.
This combined with the magnitude of the approach means that few
people ever ski this memorable line. You can get a great overall
view of it from across the canyon in either the Hogum or Maybird
It's all part of the job. Ex-avalanche forecaster Alex Lowe
inspecting 5,000' of 5% powder in Lisa Falls. Photo: Andrew McLean
Climber, skier, author, and Black Diamond product designer
Andrew McLean is the owner of numerous first descents and was
the team leader of last year's Shishapangma Ski Expedition. Andrew
has written articles for Fall Line magazine, been on the cover
of Couloir and graced the centerfold of Powder Magazine's Photo
Annual. His book "The
Chuting Gallery" is the best guidebook available covering
the steep descents of the Wasatch.
One of my shots of Andrew's home playground
(also covered in his book): Mt Superior, Little Cottonwood Canyon,
UT. Photo by Mitch Weber
More From Andrew:
The Roman Latta Avalanche Account
Editor's note: The following story has
been available on the web for quite sometime, still I am sure
many of you have not read it. I believe it should be required
reading in Backcountry Skiing 101 and I thank Andrew for permission
to print it here.
(Summary: This is an
account of the April 3rd 1993 avalanche that caught and buried
Roman Latta in Wolverine Cirque, Big Cottonwood Canyon, Utah.
Roman was buried 6-8 feet deep for a period of 20 to 30 minutes.
At the time this was written, Roman was alive, but in intensive
care. He survived 3 days before dying of a brain hemorrhage on
April 7th. This is a personal account of what happened and is
more emotional than factual. Alex Wells published an article
on the same accident in the March '95 issue of Men's Journal
that covers the accident from a much broader perspective as well
as giving some relevant background information.
We met at the Grizzly Gulch parking lot
above Alta around 8:30am. Roman and I had made plans earlier
in the week to go ski Mt. Tuscarora, a peak located between Alta
and Solitude. Stan Brown said he might be interested, so I thought
my wife Chris might enjoy it as it sounded like a fun group.
When we got to the parking lot, we coincidentally met up with
Chris Harmston and his friend Tim Gibbs. Roman said that he had
talked to Stan and didn't think that he was going to make it.
Chris H. and Tim said they were interested in going, so the five
of us started off skiing up Grizzly Gulch at about 8:40am.
We reached Twin Lakes pass about 10:00am
and stopped to regroup. There was a party of three or four people
ahead of us that were just starting down the northeast side of
Twin Lakes pass toward Solitude as we arrived. The snow looked
deep and they were having trouble skiing it, but there were no
signs of sliding or instability. As we continued up the ridge
toward Patsy Marley, I looked across the valley and saw that
the Alta patrol had open Greely Bowl and people were skiing Eddies
High Nowhere, a shot that I felt had a similar exposure and angle
to what we were going to ski. Chris had tried to call the Avalanche
Hot Line twice earlier that morning but got a disconnected signal.
I had heard that the center might be closing down earlier this
year, so I thought that it had been disconnected for the season.
We spread out to make the exposed climb up Patsy Marely and regrouped
again once we were all on the summit.
Looking across at Alta, we watched a large
slide triggered by the area ski patrol come down above the Sugarloaf
lift. From this and a few other slides that we could see around
the Mt. Superior area, we knew there was a high slide potential.
We continued around the edge of the cirque
on hard wind packed snow until we came to the first major chute.
At this point, I pull out a length of rope and Chris H. belayed
me from a small tree as I went up to the edge to see what the
chute was like. Earlier in the season, this had been a rounded
knoll turning into an open 30-35 degree bowl. Now it was a 20-30'
cornice. I tried to break the cornice by jumping on it, and when
that didn't do anything, I took a ski off, perforated the lip
and then jumped on it some more. Nothing moved. The only way
into this one would be a large free fall, so we continued on.
The next chute we came to had an easy entrance
into it, but it was wider, and more exposed. We decided to continue
on and if we didn't find anything better, we'd come back.
Three quarters of the way around the cirque
we came to a chute I have been calling The King Chute. Facing
almost directly due north it usually has the best skiing. It
is about 18' wide at the top, and opens up to about 35' wide
at the bottom. Having skied it three times before, and looked
at it many other times, the entrance was as filled in as I had
ever seen it. The cornice was about 5' tall and the top section,
usually a 50 degree pitch, was now closer to 40-45 degrees. Setting
up an anchor on two small trees, Chris H. again belayed me as
I went to the edge and tried to break the cornice off. The initial
ski stomping produced a few powdery blocks that fell into the
chute without any result. I then took one ski off, perforated
the lip and then jumped on it until a good size chunk dropped
off. It fell into the chute and broke into smaller blocks which
then tumbled down. Deciding the cornice was safe, I rappeled
into the top of the chute.
Once inside and while still roped, I did
a few ski cuts back and forth across the top of the chute. The
east side (skiers right) had 10-12" of medium light snow
on it, and 15' away, the west side (skiers left) was firm, hard
snow. I traversed across the east side twice, side slipping and
trying to get the snow to break free. Nothing happened. It may
be wishful thinking, but I prefer narrow chutes as I think that
if you can get them to slide at the top, the area where the most
snow has accumulated, they will be safe the rest of the way down.
I felt the slope was safe and called up to Chris to rappel down
Chris lowered into the chute and stood
beside me. I said to go ahead and ski the chute, while I stayed
there watching, then duck immediately under the rocks on the
west at the end of the 300' main chute section. Chris made about
10-15 turns down the chute. Roman called down from above and
asked if it was clear. He said he was thinking about just jumping
into the chute instead of rappeling. I agreed that it looked
doable and the landing was soft. I asked him to wait until Chris
was clear of the chute, which took a few more turns. When Chris
was parallel with the rocks, I said to make sure that she had
packed out an escape route so she could quickly tuck back under
the rocks if need be. Once she was in place, I told Roman that
it was clear and to hold on while I got my camera ready.
"Ready?" Roman called down.
Prefocusing my camera, I called up "Go for it!"
Roman hit the soft east side about parallel
to me and 15' away. It immediately began to slide taking Roman
with it. I watched in disbelief as Roman picked up speed and
more snow started to build up around him. Looking down I saw
Chris and shouted at the same time Chris H. shouted "Get
out" from above. The snow was billowing and filling the
chute from side to side. Roman was still on top of the pile swimming
fiercely. As the slide reached the end of the chute, Roman disappeared
into the churning white ball of snow.
(At this point, I knew it was a serious
slide and we would have to get to him quickly, but thought there
would be a good chance that he would be on the surface, or easy
to find. From the amount of snow in the chute, I expected a small
powder avalanche 2-4' deep)
I heard Chris scream and thought she had
been caught in the slide and was screaming as she was pulled
down. I started a high speed side slip down the chute which was
by now a smooth hard surface.
Chris H. called down from the ridge "Should
we come down?"
"Both of us?"
I slipped toward the mouth of the chute,
panicked by my wife's screams and envisioning her buried. As
I reached the end of the rock band, I felt a flood of relief
as I saw her standing there.
"Should I come down?" she said.
Then I saw she was standing on top of a
horrifying 3-4' fracture line. It was sharp, clean and had slid
on a hard billiard table flat surface. It seemed to go on forever
in both directions. I looked down into the cirque and got my
first glimpse of the magnitude of the slide. It was huge. The
small sluff slide that Roman had been caught in had triggered
a far larger slide below with him in the center of it.
"No." I said, changing my mind
at the new situation and thinking that her movements might set
off another slide.
I slid another 100 yards down to the beginning
of the debris and tore my pack off. Unzipping my jacket, I pulled
out my transceiver and plugged the ear set in. I wished I had
done more search practice. I got absolutely nothing on the receiver.
I wanted badly to believe that Roman was near the top of the
slide deposit. I frantically switched my receiver setting hoping
that was the problem. I looked for any color in the spread out
white mass below me. Nothing.
I was suddenly aware that Chris H. was
beside me. He had his receiver out and was trying to pick up
a signal. I had my skis on and was traversing side to side as
I worked my way down, not wanting to go too low too fast for
fear of having to climb back up and lose time. Chris was on his
feet going straight down the center of the pile.
We continued down the pile until we were
3/4 of the way through it. We were nearing the deepest section
of the slide.
"I've got a signal!" Chris yelled.
"Over here! It's getting stronger!"
I came over to Chris, still not getting
any signal. I suddenly saw a pair of sunglasses. My hopes leapt.
The pile seemed to go on forever.
"What have you got?"
Chris and Tim had joined us by now. Chris
was searching with her receiver. She was getting strong signals.
I grabbed her shovel.
"He's here!" one of them shouted.
I began to dig.
"Turn your volume down! Search close!"
We all started digging. After a sprint
of shoveling, Chris H. got down in the hole and scanned again.
"Quiet!" Chris said as he moved
"He's over here!" he said pointing to the east. We
all started shoveling.
"Chris - probe!"
Chris turned her pole upside down and shoved
it handle first into the snow while we dug.
"I GOT HIM! I GOT HIM!" she cried.
We shoveled harder. A helicopter swung
overhead from nowhere. I looked up at it and knew they knew what
had happened. They flew off.
We continued to dig. The hole was getting
deeper. We were standing on top of each other, hitting others
with our shovels. As the hole got deeper, it became harder to
get the snow out of it. We were down past our waists. My hands
were frozen. I was starting to get tired. Time seemed to crawl.
My transceiver swung around my neck, the ear piece wrapping around
my hands making it hard to shovel. I ripped it out. My sunglasses
whacked me in the face with each shovel load. My hands were freezing
but my body was boiling over. I shoveled in a blind panicked
I heard a helicopter. Looking up, I saw
it land uphill from us and some people in red suits jump out.
We were so deep in the hole that our heads were level with their
feet. I was starting to waiver on the shoveling.
"Spell us on shoveling!" I yelled.
"How many victims?" the first one yelled back.
"Are you certain of the location?"
They ran toward us, opening their packs
and pulling out transceivers. As they approached us, the helicopter
lifted off blasting us with snow. The three red figures came
to us through the hurricane.
The first one, Duffy, jumped into the pit
and started scanning.
"Quiet!" He scanned the bottom
of the pit holding his receiver against the wall.
"Over here" he said point to a wall. We all dug in.
"Quiet!" He scanned again.
"He's over here."
We started shoveling.
"I've got a leg!" Someone shouted.
For the first time in what seemed like hours there was a color
other than white. A dark blue piece of fabric appeared.
"His head is over here!"
We started digging.
"Watch his head! Watch his head!" someone cried referring
to our shoveling.
For the first time it occurred to me that
we were standing on Roman. The Powder Bird Guides (as I was later
to learn their identity) were working around his head. I continued
to work on his legs.
"WE GOT HIS HEAD!" I looked over
and saw a shock of Romans long hair on the surface of the snow.
The guides dropped their shovels and dug with their hands. Roman's
head appeared covered with snow.
"We've got a breath!" Roman's
eyes opened and rolled back into their sockets.
"Maybe not. It might have been his last."
"NO!" I said, thinking they were giving up on him.
He was still partially buried, lying on his side, chest slightly
"Let's get him out." We dug around
him until his chest was clear. Grabbing a hold of Romans clothes,
we pulled his torso free. Duffy held a pair of glasses up to
his mouth. He got a slight fogging. A guide felt for pulse. I
heard a helicopter land. Another group of people in red staggered
uphill toward us carrying cases.
"What have you got?" The first
one called out while still climbing.
"Thready pulse and we thought there was some breathing."
The first man arrives and gets into the pit with us.
"Get the backboard." he said, kneeling down to examine
Roman, then reaching over and opening his medical case.
"Get the oxygen."
More people in red arrived. I stood back
and let them in. At some point another group of tourers joined
us from the direction of Solitude.
"Lets get him on the backboard."
We dug his legs free and slid the orange/red
backboard under him. His legs fell off and I strapped them on
with the fastex buckles that hung from the sides of the board.
Roman's body was limp. A female Powderbird guide (Annabelle)
handed the doctor a pair of scissors. Starting at his waist and
going up, he cut Romans shirt off exposing his chest.
Pulling objects from the cases, they began
to set Roman up for CPR. A flat rubber cup was placed over his
mouth and a man breathed into a tube that stuck from it while
another pushed on his chest to the count of five.
"You're going to be an IV stand."
the doctor said to me, handing me a plastic bag full of clear
fluid with a long tube coming from it. He pulled open a paper
package, taking needle from it and sticking it into Roman's arm.
He took the tube from me and connected it to the needle, then
reached up and turned the flow on. It very slowly started to
drip into a vial that lead into Roman's arm.
"Keep it high."
"One, two, three, four, five. Change
out on the next one. One, two, three, four and change."
A new person jumped in to take over pushing on his chest.
"Let's get him on oxygen."
An 8" clear plastic tube was slid
down Roman's throat and pulled to the side of his mouth. The
tape that held it in place wouldn't stick to Roman's wet face
and they kept trying to tape it in place as they pounded on his
chest so hard I thought his ribs would break. A helicopter had
landed. More people were coming towards us. An oxygen cylinder
was placed by Roman's head and connected to the tube in his mouth.
"It's not filling the bag."
"Does anyone know anything about this scar on his chest?"
One person held onto a football shaped
balloon coming from the oxygen cylinder, squeezing it empty into
Roman's mouth on the count of five as the other pushed on his
chest. A man in a flight helmet appeared. Another come towards
us, speaking to the doctor, apparently familiar with each other.
Radios crackled. People were digging landing pads and stashing
gear. Blood was on the snow. Gear was strewn all around. The
other medic set an case down and talked to the first medic, Van.
Tubes were tangled around everything. I listened to what the
doctors were saying, not understanding any of it, but not hearing
anything that sounded bad. They asked each other questions and
answered in numbers.
"Let's shock him (sic)" one said.
The second medic opened the black case which had two handles
with curly cords coming from them.
"What do you want to start him at?"
"How about 200?"
"200? I usually go all the way up to 360. But what ever
"Let's start him low and go up" the second medic said
breaking open a packet of jellylike square pads and handing them
to another person who put them on his Roman's chest.
"All clear? Get your leg away from
him. I don't want you to get it." The medic pushed the buttons
and Roman's arm jumped.
"What have you got?"
"Let's do another."
"OK. Clear." Roman's arm jumped again.
"I can't read the display." The
sun was directly overhead.
"Let's get a tape running on this" They turned on the
paper tape recorder which spit out a length of paper about the
size of a bank deposit slip with two squiggles on it. They repeated
the shock treatment. Earlier, the first doctor had disconnect
the tube that I was supporting and injected a syringe into the
needle that came from Roman's arm. He did it again now.
"Let's do another" They shocked
"We've got something! He's up to 179 (sic)."
"He's going up."
"Let's get him out of here. There's nothing more we can
"Where do you want to take him? LDS?"
I was given a bag that fit over the plastic
sack I was supporting and told to pump it up until a green cylinder
popped out. Others were fastening the rest of the fastex buckles
around Roman and fitting pads around his head. A group of people
spread out around the backboard. Someone took the bag I was holding
and placed it on Roman's chest. I grabbed a hold of the board.
"On the count of three... One, two,
three." We lifted Roman into the air and carried him out
of the pit. Oxygen was still being squeezed into his mouth. We
staggered toward the waiting helicopter and slid the backboard
into a slot that looked like it would barely fit a body. People
secured the backboard as I ducked low and crab walked back to
the pit, hoping to avoid the blades which weren't spinning yet.
We regrouped in the pit, shielding ourselves
as the helicopter took off. Silence. Breathing. Looking around
at other people. Some I knew, some I didn't. Skis, gloves, poles,
packs scattered in piles everywhere. I looked up into the cirque
where the slide had started and realized that we were still in
a high avalanche danger position. The cirque loomed above us,
a loaded gun with ten times the power of the avalanche it had
just let loose. The sun was warming up the slopes. We were at
ground zero. I looked up at the fracture line and swore I would
never backcountry ski again. I hated skiing.
One of the original Powderbird Guides was
making helicopter arrangements on the radio and organizing the
stunned group. He said a helicopter would pick us up and take
us to the top of Patsy Marely where we could retrieve our gear
(a rope, two runners and a carabiner) then ski down. The thought
of skiing was horrifying and we asked him to just take us to
the Snowbird base and forget about the gear.
The helicopter landed and the original
four of us crawled into it with our packs and buckled the seat
belts. As the helicopter lifted off, I broke into tears and hugged
Chris. I didn't look up, but could feel that we were all holding
onto each other and sobbing uncontrollably.
Andrew McClean's PawPrince Press website is where he has been posting pictures all year of
his weekend exploits in the Wasatch and elsewhere.
Or use the drop down menu at the top.