Fatal avalanche on Donner Peak Jan 14, 2016.

Location Name: 
Donner Peak
Donner Summit Area
Date and time of avalanche (best estimate if unknown): 
Thu, 01/14/2016 - 14:30
Location Map: 
United States
39° 18' 37.71" N, 120° 19' 4.152" W

Red Flags: 
Recent avalanche activity
Obvious avalanche path

Observation made by: Forecaster
Avalanche Observations
Avalanche Type: 
Trigger type: 
Weak Layer: 
Old Snow
Near Treeline
7 600ft.
Bed Surface: 
Old Snow
Number of people caught: 
Number of full burials: 
More detailed information about the avalanche: 

On Jan 14, after skiing at the ski resort, Carson May left the ski area boundary in the late afternoon. He did not return home that night and was reported missing the next day when he did not show up to work. On Friday, Jan 15, a search was initiated that lasted many days with several agencies participating. Crew searched likely areas near a cell phone ping and along the east Sugarbowl boundry as well as in bounds at the resort. Search techniques included avalanche dogs, probe teams, Recco searches, and beacon searches. He was not found nor was evidence of his body found. The sheriff's office suspended the search after several days. 6 weeks later on February 29th, the his body was found on Donner Summit outside of the Sugar Bowl Ski Resort near Donner Peak buried in avalanche debris at the base of an avalanche path.  His body was found by a dog specialized in finding cadavers.   

May was reported missing amid near whiteout conditions with a storm that dropped up to 1’ of new snow by the morning of Jan 15.  The avalanche danger for the day was rated as Considerable, see forecast:  http://www.sierraavalanchecenter.org/advisory/2016/jan/14/2016-01-14-070243.  Avalanche problems for the day were wind slabs and persistent slabs.   The area had been experiencing unusual avalanche conditions with several layers of buried surface hoar 1 to 3 feet deep in the snowpack that had caused many natural and human triggered avalanches in this area.

The slope that May was found beneath was at 7740’ at the top and 7600’ at the burial spot.  The starting zone averaged between 38 to 44 degrees in steepness. It is unknown where May entered the slope, but he was found buried at the bottom with skis still on head facing up.   

Reactive surface hoar was present on the lower half of the slope on Jan 16 with skier triggered collapses and unstable snowpit test results observed (more info at http://www.sierraavalanchecenter.org/observation/snowpack/2016/jan/16/skier-triggered-collapses-and-buried-surface-hoar-donner-peak).

Some of the other nearby observations from that timeframe:

All photos take 3/1/16. Excavated burial site visible in all photos.

Photo 1: View of avalanche path from top of slope.

Photo 2: View of avalanche path as observed from mid height on south shoulder.

Photo 3: View of lower half of avalanche path taken from low on the south shoulder.

Photo 4: Burial area as viewed from the lowest roll over on the south shoulder.

Photo 5: View of full avalanche path as seen from below. Person in the photo is standing at the burial site.

Photo 6: Overview of area with skier routes.

Avalanche Photos: 
Avalanche observation video: 

Overview of the Avalanche Site