Fall/Slip on Snow—New Hampshire, Mt. Washington, Tuckerman's Ravine

Publication Year: 1977.

FALL/SLIP ON SNOW—New Hampshire, Mt. Washington, Tuckerman’s Ravine. On Saturday, May 8, Scott Whinnery (25) hiked with two companions to Tuckerman’s Ravine for a day of skiing. Scott was a professional ski patrolman and was considered an excellent skier. He was adequately prepared with conventional equipment of normal cold-weather downhill skiing; his gear did not include a crash helmet.

On Friday, May 7, it had rained hard in the Tuckerman Ravine area, thoroughly saturating the upper snow layers. Friday night the temperature dropped below freezing, and hovered near 20° F through Sunday. On Saturday all snow surfaces were frozen hard, an intermittent light snow began falling in mid-morning with a moderate wind, gusting at times to 40 mph, blew throughout the day. Many rocks were exposed at the surface because of abnormally early spring melting.

The fact that the skiing conditions were extremely icy had been prominently posted by the Forest Service Snow Rangers, and words of caution were extended to all visitors by the AMC, Forest Service, and Mt. Washington Volunteer Ski Patrol staffs. (Despite the poor conditions and unsettled weather, over a thousand people were estimated to have visited the area that Saturday, most of them skiers.)

Scott was hiking up the left branch of the uppermost section of Hillman’s Highway approximately 12:30 p.m. and was nearing the ridgeline when he slipped out of a foothold and began an uncontrolled fall of over 500 feet down the main chute of Hillman’s.

Two doctors were on the scene immediately and found Scott unconscious with shallow and labored breathing; he was observed to have suffered massive head and other injuries. When AMC and Forest Service staff arrived on the scene, the victim had already been secured in a litter and was ready to transport to Hermit Lake Shelter Area, a process that was slowed by icy conditions. Due to the condition of the victim, the Forest Service Ranger requested that a National Guard helicopter be sent. Despite high winds and limited visibility, the helicopter arrived at Hermit Lake Shelter Area at approximately 3:30 p.m.

During the wait for the helicopter, oxygen was administered to the victim, and his condition was stabilized as much as possible; nevertheless Scott never regained consciousness. He died in the helicopter while in transit between Androscoggin Valley Hospital in Berlin, where he was first taken, and Mary Hitchcock Hospital in Hanover. (Source: Douglas George, AMC)

Analysis: When snow conditions are as described above, persistent skiers would be well advised to use a racer’s crash helmet. (Source: Douglas George, AMC)