Caught on Film: Avalanche Swallows Pro Skier Nick McNutt

Pro skier Nick McNutt was caught in an avalanche in March. Fortunately, he survived. And the entire accident was captured on film. This is the amazing story.

A group of skiers and snowboarders were on location filming for Teton Gravity Research’s new winter film, “Make Believe.” That day, the unbelievable happened. Pro skier Nick McNutt was caught in a car-sized slide as he dropped in on a line.

“It started with a clear, dark sky, and plans to ski lines on a beautiful peak north of Pemberton with @tetongravity and…all-star crew,” wrote McNutt in an Instagram post. “As always, while getting our things ready at the trailhead, our group did our daily avalanche transceiver check.”

During a lunch break, McNutt decided to seize the opportunity and ski some pillow lines right above treeline.

“My first line went off exactly as I planned. I quickly skinned back up for another lap on a parallel line,” he wrote. ⁣”The light slough was the tipping point for a pillow the size of a sedan…from my perspective, I launched the last drop into what looked like the expected powder cloud but was rudely met with cascading blocks of hard debris that re-directed me into a stand of trees. Silence and darkness followed…”

Thankfully, a film crew and his fellow skiers had been intently watching his line. They immediately put their beacons on search mode to find a signal. But McNutt’s signal wasn’t there. In recent weeks, McNutt and ACMG guide and skier Christina Lustenberger (who was present for the incident) have posted lengthy recaps of what happened.

More Details: What Went Wrong

The accident occurred on March 9, 2020. McNutt was using a Pieps DSP Pro avalanche beacon, which the group now believes to have malfunctioned and switched off while McNutt was skiing.

“In the following days I was in disbelief that Nick’s transceiver had turned off,” Lustenberger wrote. “The experience left me questioning the integrity of the Pieps DSP Pro. A few days after the incident I sent an email to the guiding community enquiring about similar experiences or issues with this device. I was surprised to see my email flooded with similar accounts.”

According to Lustenberger, the possible problem is that the DSP Pro beacon “can switch modes easily without the user’s knowledge … Due to poor design the button wears out and no longer provides resistance allowing it to slide out of send mode,” she continued in her post.

Since then, several others in the guiding and skiing community have subsequently noted similar issues with the slide lock mechanism, and Pieps and Black Diamond now face a class-action lawsuit related to these claims.

Lustenberger also noted that McNutt has been in conversation with Black Diamond/Pieps with hopes of a product recall of the Pieps DSP pro/sport models. He even sent his beacon back to Pieps for inspection and testing, but it was lost in the mail.

On October 15, Pieps posted a response on Instagram: “We have received inquiries about the design and safety of the Pieps DSP Sport and DSP Pro avalanche beacons,” the brand wrote. “These beacons have undergone vigorous testing and exceed all certification standards.”

Beacon Recall and Replacement Information

Pieps has not confirmed a manufacturer default, nor a recall for the beacon model in question. If you have questions or issues with your safety device, reach out to Black Diamond Equipment in North America and Pieps in Europe for beacon warranty, inspection, and replacement information.

We will update this story as new information becomes available. 

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Mary Murphy
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Mary is based out of GearJunkie's Denver, CO office. Her outdoor interests span from climbing to landscape photography to pack-paddleboarding. If she's not writing, you can most likely find her at the top of a fourteener, or in a local bakery.

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