JACKSON — A 32-year-old Campton man was identified as the skier who died Thursday in an avalanche near Mount Washington’s Tuckerman Ravine, according to a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service.
Nicholas D. Benedix, was skiing alone in an area called Raymond Cataract and was buried under about five feet of snow before rescuers dug him out, officials said.
He was pronounced dead several hours later.
Evan Burks, public affairs officer for the Forest Service, White Mountain National Forest region, said Benedix was declared dead about 4 p.m. Thursday.
“The avalanche actually occurred closer to the area known as Raymond Cataract,” said Burks. “A man was caught under the avalanche, and a medical helicopter was called for. CPR was being performed, and rescuers were making their way down the mountain with the injured man when they called off the helicopter, and he was declared deceased.”
Burks said a representative from the state Medical Examiner’s office was on the way to the scene.
On Friday, forest officials said there had been other avalanches in the White Mountains on Thursday prior to the deadly avalanche and those too were caused by human activity.
There were no reports of other injuries from those other incidents.
A post on the Mount Washington Avalanche Center website had warned of a moderate danger of avalanches in the area on Thursday.
“Steep terrain without well-bonded new snow will have a significant sliding fall hazard,” the post states. “Don’t count on arresting a fall on the icy surface beneath this new snow. Even a small avalanche can cause a significant problem today.”
Longtime Mount Washington Valley climbing guide Rick Wilcox said Raymond Cataract, which is located northeast of Tuckerman Ravine and is between it and Huntington Ravine, is prone to avalanches in heavy snow years like this one.
He recalled an avalanche in 1969, another snow-heavy year, that “was massive and it wiped out acres of trees. It was just a monstrous avalanche and this is certainly an area that can avalanche” under the right conditions, he said.
Wilcox is the leader of the successful 1991 American Everest Expedition and a 40-year past president and member of the volunteer Mountain Rescue Service (MRS). He said the Mountain Rescue Service was not asked to respond to Thursday’s avalanche.
He estimated that as part of MRS, he has participated in about half of its 500 missions, including upward of 30 avalanches.
Raymond Cataract is a very narrow ravine, he said. Historically, it does not have avalanches “unless we have a major snow year like this year.”
In most years, Raymond Cataract sees few skiers, he said. Most trek up Tuckerman Ravine or Huntington Ravine, said Wilcox, “but with snow like they have this year, people are skiing lots of places we don’t normally ski.”
Wilcox said when it comes to avalanches, the most important thing is time.
“People have to be dug up immediately by the people on the scene,” he said. “To call in a team (MRS) from North Conway takes hours. We don’t go looking for live people. Whatever happened today, the people on the mountain dealt with it.”