HomeOutdoorsSkiers Remarkably Navigate Thin Layer of Snow and ‘Death Slabs’ at Yosemite National Park’s Half Dome

Skiers Remarkably Navigate Thin Layer of Snow and ‘Death Slabs’ at Yosemite National Park’s Half Dome

by Matthew Wilson
Photo credit: Mark Crosse/Fresno Bee/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Two skiers stared death in the face as they navigated the treacherous death slabs on the Half Dome at Yosemite National Park. Both skiers had no room for mistakes as they both skied and rappelled down the shoulder of the Dome to the bottom.

According to AP News, it took both Jason Torlano and Zach Milligan around five hours to make the descent at Yosemite. Both 40-something-year-old skiers had to be attentive to thin snow and ice. To successfully navigate death slabs, or bare exposed rock, they used ropes to rappel downward.

Any wrong move would have led to their deaths. A professional skier and nervous friend of Torlano can attest to that.

“If you fall to your left or right, you’re definitely dead,” said JT Holmes. “If you fall down the middle, you have a small chance of not falling to your death — but it’s a maybe.”

Yosemite’s Half Dome Is Dangerous

For Torlano, Yosemite’s Half Dome has been an obsession since he was 5-years-old. When he was still a child, he joined thousands of climbers who made the pilgrimage to the rock every year. Over the years, the skier progressed in skill as a climber. Eventually, Torlano even became a ranger at Yosemite National Park as well.

“It’s just always been there,” Torlano told the San Francisco Chronicle. “I’ve been attracted to Half Dome for as long as I can remember.”

For the past three years, Torlano planned a ski attempt down Half Dome. But he called off his multiple attempts due to conditions at Yosemite not being suitable. Finally, the skier had the right conditions in the park this year. It snowed about two to three inches at Half Dome’s peak.

He decided to make the attempt after studying the snow conditions and possible route. Initially, Torlano recruited Milligan to film his descent. But Milligan decided to make the journey himself once he came out to Yosemite. Milligan had a brush with death after skiing over a cable and almost sliding down Half Dome. He used an ice ax to stop his descent.

“I was just trying to stay in control and stay alive,” Milligan said. “You’re on that spine and you don’t have a lot of room for error.”

Fortunately, both skiers made it down the dome safe and sound.