Saying goodbye

Went to the funeral for friend and mountain lover Nishiyama this evening. A sad affair of course at age 44 it is a shocking loss for everyone. The hall was very crowded with a lot of young people and sad faces. A mix of mountain community and Sapporo club and bar community. I have many friends in both worlds so there were a lot of subdued hello’s. Nice to see old friends, but not exactly the best way to meet.

There was a lot of rumor and speculation on the exact cause and conditions of his death. I have copied and pasted the Niseko Avalanche info bulletin below. It is stated clearly that it was a slab avalanche.

It has been a strange weather pattern so far this season, and it is creating a lot of unstable layers. Please be careful when venturing out into the beautiful back country. And next time you are skiing or snowboarding, take a few extra turns for all those whom we have lost doing what we all love so much! Thanks.

ニセコなだれ情報 第19号 Niseko Avalanche Info No.19
1日鉱山の沢(バックボウル)雪崩事故

発生地点、山頂北西尾根鉱山の沢側壁標高1250m付近と推定、雪崩の種類、浅い表層雪崩、破断面は確認できず。遭難者発見時間1月2日午前10時、発見場所、鉱山の沢標高950m地点、埋没深度60cm、雪崩発生点から停止点までの距離約500m、デブリ不鮮明。標高1100m付近に雪崩通過によるものと思われる笹の露出。捜索状況、2日の捜索は道警とニセコパトロールによる合同捜索。9時45分テールを雪面にのぞかせたスキー板1本を発見。その後遭難者をビーコン捜索で確認、掘り出し後道警ヘリで札幌へ搬送。雪崩発生原因の推察、1. 事故の時間帯までに作られた東北東25-30m/sの風による飛雪のふきだまりの滑走刺激による破壊。2. 寒冷、大陽反射の影響で標高1200m以上に広範囲に発達した霜系の再結晶(しもざらめ)雪の破壊。同行者の話、携帯電話の通話状況から事故発生時刻1日午前11時10分、雪崩発生点から埋没停止点までの標高差300m。斜面全体は向き標高を問わず雪板化し、部分的に飛雪による硬いふきだまりを形成。事故原因は強風、悪天候など気象条件を考慮せずに登山し、鉱山の沢(通称バックボウル)側壁を滑走しようとしたため。雪崩は雪の量に関係せず条件がそろえば起こる。亡くなられた方に哀悼の意をあらわしたい。

雪不足のためスキー場から管理区域外への全ゲートは閉じられている。ロープをくぐってコース外に出てはならない。山麓6時気温-4度小雪、ふきだまりの発達なし。森の中の雪は良い。

Report of the avalanche accident on January 1st.

Although unconfirmed, the starting zone is seen to be the top of the Backbowl sidewall (NW ridge from the summit) around 1250m elevation. The crown could not be identified but the avalanche type would have been a shallow surface slab avalanche. The victim has been found unconscious and CPA in the bowl at 950m at 10am on the 2nd Jan, 60cm under the surface and roughly 500m from the estimated starting zone. Although there was no clear signs of debris, sasa bamboo were unnaturally thick in the potential track area at 1100m, probably due to the avalanche scraping snow blocks off the slope. A mixed team of Hokkaido Police and Niseko ski patrollers did the search and rescue operation on the 2nd. One ski was found at 9:45am, followed by beacon search and identified the victim. He has been dug out and taken to Sapporo hospital by the police helicopter. The estimated causes of the avalanche are: 1. Skiing stimulation made unstable snowdrifts (developed by strong 25-30m/s ENE wind) collapse. 2. Sliding of depth hoar layer that formed and developed above 1200m area due to sun reflection effect.
According to the companion, the accident would have happened at 11:10am on the 1st Jan. 300m of altitude difference between the start and rescued point.
The whole slope seemed to have composed a big slab with partial hard-packed snowdrifts of windblown snow.
The cause of the accident would be that this person tried to ski Backbowl’s sidewall without considering the poor weather and strong wind consequences. No matter the amount of snow, avalanches happen in the right conditions.
We would like to offer all our sincere condolences to the victim and his family.

All access gates are kept closed due to insufficient snow; do not duck ropes to seek fresh lines. Mountain base 6am: -4℃, light snowfall and no notable development of snowdrifts. The snow in the trees seems good.

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