Washington Avalanche

February 20, 2012 by staff 

Washington Avalanche, Well-equipped and familiar with the terrain, about a dozen expert skiers were making their way through a foot-and-a half of fresh snow when an avalanche hit them in an out-of-bounds area near a popular Washington ski resort.

Three men were killed Sunday when they were swept about a quarter-mile down a canyon, and a fourth skier caught up in the slide was saved by a safety device, authorities said. The large group had split into three smaller groups before the avalanche, but all the backcountry skiers were buried to some extent. Those who were able to free themselves rushed to dig out the victims and unsuccessfully performed CPR on the three, believed to be in their 30s and 40s.

“Most of the people involved in this were well-known to the ski community up here, especially to the ski patrol,” said Deputy Chris Bedker of the King County Sheriff’s search-and-rescue unit. “It was their friends who they recovered.”

The Stevens Pass fatalities were part of a deadly Sunday on Washington ski slopes. A male snowboarder was killed in a separate avalanche incident at the Alpental ski area east of Seattle, authorities said.

CBS News learned through friends of the victims that the dead from the Stevens Pass avalanche include Jim Jack, a former extreme skier who judged “freeskiing” competitions around the world. Friends say he was on the mountain making a video with Chris Rudolph, a marketing director for the Stevens Pass ski area. A third man, John Brenan also died.

Pro skier Elyse Saugstad, however, was saved by an avalanche airbag, which kept her near enough to the surface of the slide to keep her head and hands uncovered.

CBS News correspondent Bill Whitaker reports the same kind of gear saved professional snowboarder Meesh Hytner from an avalanche in Colorado earlier this month.

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