RJ Phipps was hiking up Tuckerman Ravine on Mount Washington over the weekend with his wife when he took out his camera to shoot a snowboarder and skier. Within seconds, Phipps watched as the two men were nearly engulfed by an avalanche. He caught it all on video, which he posted on social media this week.
"With temps below zero and Mt Washington Avalanche center forecasting considerable chance of avalanches at that elevation and on eastern facing terrain, we were not sure what to expect," he wrote. "We were expecting something epic and were not disappointed."
The unidentified skier was able to scramble to the side of the avalanche on Saturday while the snowboarder appears to almost surf the avalanche down the mountain. The snowboarder, who had been sitting down when the avalanche was triggered, ended up several hundred feet down the ravine and waist deep in snow. Both people escaped injury. The location of the avalanche was about 4,800 feet up on the mountain.
"It looked like he was basically sliding down the mountain," Phipps said, adding that he was surprised to see the men out there and "super concerned because there are a lot of fatalities that come with avalanches."
"He was just sitting there and when the avalanche released and all the snow started to come down the mountain," he continued. "When he was coming down, my only thought was to keep an eye on him. If he was to be buried, where was the last place I saw him so we had a starting point if we had to initiate 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. Because of recent snow storms, Fongemie described the potential for an avalanche in Tuckerman Ravine on Saturday as considerable. This one had the potential to "easily bury and kill a person," he added.
"It was just luck," Fongemie said of the two surviving unscathed whom he briefly interviewed before they left the area. "Once you are engulfed in that, there is not a lot 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, which includes Mount Washington. But rarely do they injure or kill anyone.
A backcountry skier from Vermont died in February 2021 following an avalanche on Mount Washington. In December of that year, two skiers were caught in a human-caused avalanche near the top of Left Gully on Mount Washington, seriously injuring one of them.
"There are plenty of people going out and having fun and not triggering these avalanches," Fongemie said. "It's just about terrain choices."
In Colorado, avalanches have caused multiple deaths in recent days. A snowmobiler who has been missing in Colorado was found dead after an avalanche, officials said Monday. The Colorado Avalanche Information Center said on Facebook that this was the state's seventh avalanche death of the 2022-2023 season and the third such death in as many days.