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Fall on Snow, Skiing, Inadequate Equipment


Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park

On February 5, 1984, Robert Kelman (53), Pat Lang (30), and Robert McDonald (25) started at 0130 from Bear Lake (2842 meters) in Rocky Mountain National Park to ski the popular summer walking trail to Hallet’s Peak (3814 meters) via Flattop Mountain. Temperature was about – 7° C, winds moderate with clear sky, and trail hard packed and icy At 3350 meters Lang led a traverse of a 60 meter long, hard packed, 30 degree snow field which had a 20 meter run out ending in trees. Kelman mentioned the traverse seemed unsafe, especially since his skis did not have metal edges, and said he would walk across the bottom of it on the way down. A hundred meters further timberline was reached, skis were cached, and easy hiking led to Hallet’s Summit by 1130. On descent the group reached the cached skis at 1300. Lang skied on ahead. McDonald decided the snow was too hard packed to ski and proceeded to walk. Kelman skied to the snow field and observed Lang’s track, taking it high. He decided to ski it lower and started traversing about ten meters from the bottom. He slipped and rapidly accelerated, striking his lower left leg against a tree. McDonald assisted Kelman into a bivouac sack. Lang skied for help, getting to the ranger station in about an hour. A rescue helicopter was dispatched and reached the party at 1630. Kelman was evacuated to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Denver arriving at 1730. He was diagnosed as having a fractured left tibia and a flesh wound in the left leg unrelated to the fracture. (Source: Robert Kelman)


I have made this climb in winter three times and its easiness led to carelessness in an easily prevented accident whose consequences could have been more serious except for rapid rescue by the Park Service. We had taken a path somewhat south of the way I had gone on earlier trips and this led to the snow field. Obviously, without arresting gear a fall could lead to a serious accident, a possibility I had discussed prior to putting the skis on again. However, getting to the snow field on the way down, I was skiing easily and assumed I was low enough not to be taking much risk. Unwisely, I had left on my nylon wind pants and shirt, which markedly increased my acceleration upon falling, and contributed significantly to the seriousness of the injury. In doing a “hike” such as this in the winter, an ice ax should be taken along, and when warranted by the limit of one’s skiing abilities, the snow should be traveled on foot with the ice ax in hand, since a few meters or so of slipping on even moderately steep hard pack can lead to a serious accident, especially when outer wear consists of slick material. (Source: Robert Kelman)