Avalanche victims were well known in ski community


by KING 5 News


Posted on February 20, 2012 at 9:36 AM

Updated Monday, Feb 20 at 7:04 PM

SEATTLE -- Three skiers killed in an avalanche near Stevens Pass Sunday were well-equipped, experienced skiers, but were still no match for the crushing weight of the snow.

All three skiers were well known in the local ski community. Chris Rudolph was the marketing director for the Stevens Pass Ski Area. Jim Jack was a professional freestyle skiing judge, and their friend, John Brenan, was also an expert skier.

“They were great people. They had a love of sking. They were very passionate about what they were doing," said John Gifford, General Manager of Stevens Pass Ski Area. "That's what they lived for."
The three, along with survivor Elyse Saugstad, were with a group of about 13 experienced skiers in an out-of-bounds area called Seventh Heaven near Stevens Pass.

The avalanche was accidentally triggered, and Rudolph, Jack, Brenan and Saugstad were swept by snow and debris 1,500 feet down the mountain.

Joel Hammond, one of the other 13 skiers, said by the time they had gotten to Rudolph, Brenan and Jack, they could not be resuscitated.

"We had a group of amazing back country skiers who were all super well-prepared: backpacks, shovels, probes, beacons. Everybody was very savvy of the mountains," said Hammond. "We followed a lot of safety protocols out there. Unfortunately, the end result wasn't what we were hoping."

Adam McKenney, who was close friends with all three men, was skiing in a separate group that approached the scene minutes after the avalanche.  He quickly recognized the victims and assisted with CPR to Brenan, but it was too late. 

Despite the tragic outcome, he said it was an incredibly peaceful scene.

“I was able to see my friends for the last time and I wouldn’t trade that for anything," McKenney said.

All three men were considered expert skiers with the proper avalanche gear. All of the victims were in their 30s or 40s.

"This is not the first time. It's probably the hundredth or thousandth time they've been there," said Gifford. "They know the area and they've been back there a lot."

"I've been skiing for many years and it's very easy to set off an avalanche," said Eric Norrgard, skier.

"It definitely makes you want think before you go ski out of bounds or before go through the trees or do any he back country," said Carolyn Zylstra, skier.

The fourth skier, Saugstad, wasn't seriously injured. She wore an avalanche safety device, which she credited for saving her life.

Grief counselors were at Stevens Pass Ski Area to speak with any employees who want to talk.

Meanwhile, the resort will remain open despite the tragedy in the out-of-bounds area. The avalanche danger on Monday was classified as "considerable" above 4,000 feet.

In a separate incident Sunday in the Cascades, a snowboarder was killed in an avalanche at the Alpental ski area at Snoqualmie Pass. The avalanche swept the snowboarder off a cliff, where he fell 500 feet.

KING 5's Jake Whittenberg contributed to this report.