On February 16 a massive avalanche occured on Saddle Peak, just outside the southern boundary of Bridger Bowl, Montana. This peak gets skied frequently as Bridger provides legal backcountry access via the new Schlasman’s chairlift. The fracture line was approximately 1,000 feet long and the slide ran for about 2,000 vertical feet. Miraculously no one was caught despite several people on and around the peak at the time of the incident. The avalanche wiped out dozens of tracks from the day before. This avalanche is the quintissential example that skier traffic does NOT equal a safe snowpack. A snowpit video from December 17 displays extremely hard windslab on top of 3 inches of hoar that was ultimately going to release under the right trigger…in this case a large cornice set off by a skier. The slab shell was strong enough to protect the junk layer from volumes of skier traffic without any stabilization from skier compaction. This slide should win an award as the biggest wakeup call in the lower 48 this year. This truly could have had a devastating outcome. Here is a video of the slide:
Below is a short film of a road trip to Bridger Bowl in January. The movie includes footage of terrain below Saddle Peak. Many lines below Saddle are subject to substantial secondary exposure with limited exit chutes. Although snow conditions were fairly lean during our visit, we skied many classic lines off the ridge and even found quality pow in places thanks to our guide Sam Cox. We will definitely return for more as Bridger offers some of the most dynamic and challenging terrain in the US.