A New Hampshire man sustained life-threatening injuries after he fell 500 vertical feet while caught in an avalanche he triggered while skiing down a remote gully on Mount Washington, the mountain’s avalanche center said on Saturday.
Dominic Torro, 30, sustained a lower-leg injury in the avalanche, according to a press release from New Hampshire Fish and Game. He was taken to a nearby hospital by a National Guard helicopter after his friend called 911.
A video of the accident recorded by Torro’s friend shows a large section of snow breaking off as he falls, sliding into the gully.
“This incident highlights the severe implications of even a small avalanche in technical terrain and early season conditions,” the Mount Washington Avalanche Center wrote in a press release.
Torro’s condition was stabilized by his friend and an unrelated skier that came to help with directions over the phone from a backcountry paramedic, said New Hampshire Fish and Game.
Torro sustained an open fracture of the tibia and fibula with serious bleeding because his binding failed to release as he was being carried in the 15 foot-wide hard slab avalanche. If his equipment had not failed it is “entirely possible the skier would not have been injured” wrote the Mount Washington Avalanche Center.
“Both skiers who gave aid did a great job considering the conditions and situation,” said New Hampshire Fish and Game, adding that they shoveled out an area of the slope so that rescue worker would have space to load Torro into the helicopter.
The incident happened while Torro was skiing down “Airplane Gully” in the Great Gulf Wilderness. 3D maps of the area powered by FATMAP show a steep drop off from the Great Gulf Trail which runs along the gully’s ridge. Skiers face “steep turns in a long granite corridor” when they enter the gully, according to FATMAP.
The Mount Washington Avalanche Center explained that skiers can sustain injury from the rocks, ice, and vegetation that often litter avalanche runout zones, the lower portion of an avalanche path where it usually slows down and stops.
“This often makes the fall equally or more dangerous than the actual avalanche itself,” the Mount Washington Avalanche Center said.
The Mount Washington Avalanche Center underscored that both Torro and his friend were well prepared for their plan to descend into Airplane Gully. They made visual observations, snowpack assessments, and completed column tests to determine whether the slope had any instability. They were also carrying avalanche rescue equipment, medical supplies, and emergency communications tools.
“We can seemingly be doing everything right and still have an avalanche accident. 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,” wrote the Mount Washington Avalanche Center.
On the morning of the accident, General Avalanche Information from the Mount Washington Avalanche Center warned of “isolated areas of unstable snow at middle and upper elevations which could avalanche from the weight of a person.”