Pro skier Pierre first avalanche fatality of 2011-12
Professional skier Matthew Jamie Pierre died in an avalanche he triggered while snowboarding at the unopened Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort Sunday afternoon.
Pierre, 38, of Big Sky, Mont., was snowboarding with a friend in the South Chute area when the avalanche swept him off a cliff, said Unified Police Department spokesman Lt. Justin Hoyal.
The avalanche was reported to authorities at 3:15 p.m. Pierre was not buried in the avalanche but was already dead when rescuers reached him, Hoyal said. His friend was uninjured.
The area where the two were snowboarding would be considered within the boundaries of the resort if it were open, Hoyal said. But until the resort opens, no avalanche control work is being done.
"The terrain is back-country conditions and should be treated as such," Hoyal added. "No one is allowed on the resort while it is closed. This is a sad and unfortunate situation to remind the public that these are dangerous conditions."
Pierre appeared in numerous Warren Miller films and in 2006 set a world-record cliff jump at Wyoming’s Grand Targhee Resort by dropping 245 vertical feet.
"It wasn’t some yahoo stunt," Pierre told The Associated Press after setting the record. "I chose to do it so it would open up doors so I could witness my faith in Christianity."
Born in Minnesota, Pierre moved to Salt Lake City for a time to ski before relocating to Montana. Pierre is survived by a wife and two children.
"Our deepest condolences go out to Jamie’s family and friends," said Emily Moench, communications manager for Snowbird. "He was a local legend, and he will be dearly missed by the community."
The avalanche triggered by Pierre was one of at least 10 human-triggered avalanches reported Sunday as an unstable snowpack made for hazardous conditions, according to Brett Kobernik, avalanche forecaster with the Utah Avalanche Center.
Kobernik said four of those avalanches were in the unopened Alta Ski Resort. One person suffered a leg injury, but no other injuries were reported in the slides.
Skiers and snowboarders need to treat resorts as back-country ski areas now because there are no ski or avalanche patrols, Kobernik said. The layer of snow that fell in October is weak and sugary and is covered with heavier snow from the recent storm.
"It’s like stacking a brick on top of potato chips," Kobernik said.
He encouraged outdoor enthusiasts to check advisories at http://www.utahavalanchecenter.org or by calling the center’s toll-free advisory hotline at 888-999-4019.
"Folks just say ‘How can there be avalanche danger with so little snow?’ and then you combine that with the thirst for the first powder of the year, and it’s hard to control ourselves out there," Kobernik said.
The rest of the work week should be dry, with temperatures just slightly below normal — around 50 in the northern part of the state and in the low 60s in the St. George area. On Tuesday, there is a slight chance of precipitation throughout the northern part of the state, said forecaster Mark Struthwolf of the National Weather Service.
Pierre on his world record cliff jump.