A New Hampshire man suffered a life-threatening injury after getting stuck in an avalanche he triggered while skiing.
Dominick Torro was descending what's known as "Airplane Gully" on Mount Washington when he became caught in a 15-foot-wide hard slab avalanche, the peak's avalanche center said. These hard slabs tend to break above a person instead of at their feet and are typically so hard and dense that a finger can't be pushed into them.
Torro fell 500 vertical feet, releasing other small avalanches as he was carried, and came to a rest unburied but injured. He suffered an open fracture of his tibia and fibula, with Mount Washington Avalanche Center (MWAC) saying this was caused by his binding not releasing in the fall.
The 30-year-old's friend who he was skiing with, along with an unrelated solo skier were able to safely descend the summit to assist Torro, who had called 911. The two were able to control Torro's serious bleeding and keep him warm, while using medical training and supplies to stabilize him.
It took over four hours for a New Hampshire National Guard helicopter to reach and safely extract Torro. He was then transported to a nearby hospital.
The other two skiers made it down the mountain safely after Torro's rescue.
Torro's friend caught the moment Torro triggered the avalanche while descending the Great Gulf Wilderness peak on video. The footage shows as Torro makes quick turns down the mountain, but after one turn, a huge, unbreaking slab of snow follows him, causing him to fall. The video, posted by MWAC, then switches to Torro's point of view as he's carried down and pummeled by snow.
"This incident highlights the severe implications of even a small avalanche in technical terrain and early season conditions," MWAC said.
On the day of the incident, Dec. 9, MWAC had warned of "isolated areas of unstable snow at middle and upper elevations which could avalanche from the weight of a person."
Torro and his friend did take precautions before descending. The two backcountry skiers assessed the conditions of Airplane Gully visually and physically, showing no clear signs of instability, MWAC said. After the solo skier arrived at the same place and successfully dropped in without snowpack assessments, the two friends decided they were confident in the summit's safety.
However, Torro told MWAC ,if that solo skier hadn't descended without incident, he and his friend were ready to turn around and not go down.
MWAC said it's "entirely possible" Torro wouldn't have been injured had his binding released. It noted the skiers' level of medical training and supplies "greatly improved the prognosis" for those involved in the incident.
"It's important to remember that we can seemingly be doing everything right and still have an avalanche accident," MWAC said. "We gain experience, take courses, read the avalanche forecast, make slope-specific assessments, and practice good terrain management to reduce our risk in the mountains, but we can never fully eliminate that risk."
Trending stories at Scrippsnews.com