RJ Phipps was hiking Tuckerman Ravine on Mount Washington with his wife this weekend when he pulled out his camera to photograph a snowboarder and skier. Within seconds, Phipps saw the two men nearly engulfed in an avalanche. He captured it all on video, which he posted to social media this week.
“With sub-zero temperatures and the Mt Washington Avalanche center predicting a significant avalanche probability at that elevation and eastern terrain, we weren’t sure what to expect,” he wrote. “We expected something epic and were not disappointed.”
The unknown skier was able to scramble to the side of the avalanche on Saturday while the snowboarder almost seems to surf the avalanche down the mountain. The snowboarder, who had been sitting when the avalanche was triggered, ended up hundreds of meters deep in the ravine and was waist-deep in snow. Both people escaped unhurt. The location of the avalanche was about 1400 meters on top of the mountain.
“It looked like he actually slid off the mountain,” Phipps said, adding that he was surprised to see the men out there and “super concerned because there are a lot of avalanche fatalities.”
“He was just sitting there and when the avalanche broke out and all the snow started coming down the mountain,” he continued. “When he came down my only thought was to keep an eye on him. If he was going to be buried, where was the last place I saw him, so we had a starting point if we needed to start a rescue.”
Jeff Fongemie, acting director of the Mount Washington Avalanche Center, said the avalanche was unintentionally triggered by the skier, who had backcountry experience in multiple snow climates and mountain ranges. Due to recent snow storms, Fongemie described the potential for an avalanche in Tuckerman Ravine on Saturday as significant. This one had the potential to “easily bury and kill a person,” he added.
“It was just luck,” Fongemie said of the two survivors whom he briefly interviewed before they left the area. “Once you’re caught up in that, there’s not much you can do to control your destiny. You just hope for the best.”
Fongemie said avalanches are relatively common from December to May in White Mountain National Forests, including Mount Washington. But they rarely hurt or kill anyone.
A Vermont backcountry skier died in February 2021 after an avalanche on Mount Washington. In December of that year, two skiers were caught in a man-made avalanche near the top of Left Gully on Mount Washington, seriously injuring one of them.
“There are plenty of people who go out and have fun and don’t cause these avalanches,” Fongemie said. “It’s just about terrain choices.”
In Colorado have avalanches caused several deaths in recent days. A missing snowmobile in Colorado has been found dead after an avalanche, officials said Monday. The Colorado Avalanche Information Center said on Facebook that this was the seventh avalanche death of the 2022-2023 season in the state and the third such death in as many days.