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Loss of Control—Voluntary Glissade, Inadequate Equipment and Instruction, Exceeding Abilities, Washington, Stevens Pass Ski Area


Washington, Stevens Pass Ski Area

While practicing head-first glissade and self-arrest procedures with a group of 40 students and 14 staff from an Everett Mountaineers Scramblers course on May 16, 1990, Brian Fletcher (16) lost his grip on his ax and could not regain control. In the slide either the spike or pick end of the ax sliced a small cut across his chest and made a puncture wound near his stomach, just missing vital organs in the abdomen. He was rescued using the ski area’s grooming machine for transport. (Source: Neil Johnson)


Snow conditions were very hard at the time of the accident. Fletcher had practiced this arrest many times the previous day, but in soft snow. With hard snow conditions, the slope might have been too aggressive for students with one day of experience. Also, there needs to be more emphasis on buying gloves and axes that allow students a good grip on the spike end of the ax.

There seems to be considerable confusion about the best way to do the head-first- on-the-stomach arrest. Different instructors and different books say different things. We think more research needs to be done to establish good principles for this arrest. (Source: Neil Johnson)

(Editor's Note: This accident, and the July 28 accident on Mount Baker, reflect the range but by no means the full number of glissade incidents reported this year in Washington State. From the hard snow to soft snow conditions shown here, from fortunate minor injury to unfortunate fatality, the accounts of problems glissading were too numerous to include other than in the actuarial data.

Various analyses accompanying the reports raise an equally wide range of issues, from suggestions to avoid axes with ring loops to the dangers of using no ax at all to reminders to avoid the lure of the easy way down.)