Accomplished Kalispell Athlete Killed in Glacier Park Avalanche

Ben Parsons, 36, was descending Stanton Mountain when the fatal avalanche was triggered

Updated: Jan. 6, 2:30 p.m.

Ben Parsons, an accomplished endurance athlete and Whitefish firefighter, was killed Jan. 5 in an avalanche while backcountry skiing on Stanton Mountain in Glacier National Park. He was 36.

The Kalispell native, a devoted family man and friend to many, was well known throughout the community, where he was recognized for his unrivaled prowess as an elite mountain biker and ski mountaineer, as well as for his infectious smile and gregarious nature.

Flathead County Sheriff Chuck Curry on Jan. 6 confirmed Parsons as the victim of the avalanche.

According to Lauren Alley, public information officer at Glacier National Park, 911 dispatchers received a report from Parsons’ skiing companion at approximately 3:15 p.m. The companion, speaking by mobile phone, told dispatchers that Parsons had been partially buried in a large avalanche on the south-facing aspect of Stanton Mountain and was critically injured. The companion, a close friend, warmed Parsons and provided medical care while awaiting the emergency response. According to Alley, a third skier was below the other two and clear of the avalanche path.

Two Bear Air, a privately owned search and rescue helicopter, responded to the incident while the ALERT Air Ambulance staged at the base of Stanton Mountain, on the north end of Lake McDonald. Park rangers also mobilized a ground search in the event the air rescue was unsuccessful.

Jim Pierce, chief pilot for Two Bear Air, said the helicopter crew arrived on the scene around 4 p.m. and extracted Parsons from his location approximately 500 yards below the summit.

“It was a pretty big avalanche,” Pierce said.

Pierce said Parsons was conscious and responsive but had experienced severe trauma.

He was pronounced dead during the course of the rescue operation.

The skiing companion was not caught in the slide and spent “a considerable amount of time” searching for Parsons, eventually locating him by voice, Alley said.

Curry said the avalanche broke off near the top of the mountain and Parsons died from injuries that were the result of severe trauma.

Avalanche danger on Thursday was rated as moderate in southern Glacier Park at elevations above 5,000 feet, according to the Flathead Avalanche Center.

Both skiers involved in the avalanche were experienced traveling in the backcountry and were equipped with safety gear, including probes, shovels, beacons, and helmets.

In the coming days, Glacier Park officials will coordinate with the Flathead Avalanche Center to investigate the sequence of events that triggered the avalanche and caused the fatality, Alley said.

With a summit at 7,750 feet elevation, Stanton Mountain is located at the north end of Lake McDonald to the west of Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Ben Parsons Montana Ski Mountaineer by Mandy Mohler for Flathead Living Magazine Spring 2015

Parsons was an avid outdoors adventurer and standout endurance athlete who inspired anyone who witnessed his ambitious pursuits and achievements. A rare breed of athlete and well-liked by all, he earned the distinction of being one of the best mountain bike racers and ski mountaineers in the West.

Over the last decade, he was a member of the U.S. National Ski Mountaineering Team and competed in Europe against the top mountaineers in the world. He claimed numerous victories in the annual Whiteout at Whitefish Mountain Resort, where locals would regularly encounter him skinning up the mountain in the pre-dawn hours at breakneck pace.

Parsons also competed professionally on the Sportsman Ski Haus Cycling Team, which reached the No. 1 team ranking in the Montana Off Road Series and consistently placed high in regional events.

Rose Grant, a Kalispell resident and one of the top professional mountain bikers in the U.S., met Parsons around 2011 when she began competing locally and heard about the talented red-headed rider.

“I knew his name, obviously. Everybody does. He was such a well-known athlete,” Grant said of Parsons.

As the two cyclists became friends and colleagues, Grant realized he was much more than just a standout athlete.

“He was just so friendly and very accepting of those around him. He was always looking for the next adventure and always made people around him feel important,” she said. “He’s athletically way more talented than most people but he never made people feel that way. He was just very humble.”

Parsons served as an ambassador and mentor at RIDGE Mountain Academy, a local outdoors gap-year institution for students 16 to 22.

“He had a bright shining light for a smile and was infectious to be around. He and I gravitated towards each other from the first second we met,” Billy O’Donnell, a professional skier who founded RIDGE, said.

“He was an amazing teacher and mentor to the students, and was just an incredible member of the community.”

O’Donnell said Parsons’ passion for health, fitness and adventuring in the outdoors was inspirational to everyone who came in contact with him.

“He lived it every single day,” O’Donnell said.

“He inspired the valley and the community, and he brought that into RIDGE to share that with students to make an impact on their lives — and he definitely made an impact on students’ lives.”

Most recently, Parsons joined the staff at Whitefish Mountain Resort on a part-time basis to help develop a new ski mountaineering league.

Josh Knight, the events manager at the ski resort, remembers Parsons as a superior athlete who was always positive and appreciative.

“Memories of Ben here include being perhaps one of the most accomplished endurance athletes in the region, winning dozens of races, setting uphill records, pioneering our new Ski Mountaineering League, and all the while being the single most positive and appreciative event participant I have ever worked with in 17 seasons. He will be missed,” Knight stated.

The son of Larry and Val, Parsons grew up in Kalispell and graduated from Flathead High School in 1998. He pedaled his first bike, a BMX, at the age of 6 after his parents brought him home a present, sparking a lifelong passion that turned into exceptional competitive success.

He attended Montana State University and received degrees in education and geology. After graduating, he returned to the Flathead Valley and became a seventh-grade teacher at Fair-Mont-Egan School while expanding his outdoor pursuits.

After two years of teaching, he returned to college and trained as a wilderness EMT and paramedic before joining the Whitefish Fire Department in 2009. In 2010, Parsons saved another man’s life after finishing a 50-mile mountain bike race in Oregon. Parsons responded to a man who collapsed in cardiac arrest and quickly performed CPR. Parsons had successfully resuscitated the man by the time emergency responders arrived, and the man recovered within days after surgery.

Parsons was a dedicated father, husband, brother and son. To help support his wife, Jen, and 1-year-old son, Rowen, friends have set up a GoFundMe account at https://www.gofundme.com/benparsonsfamily.

The Jan. 5 incident was the ninth recorded avalanche fatality in Glacier Park since the park was established in 1910.

Prior to Parsons’ death, the most recent avalanche fatality inside the park occurred in April 2010, when a 37-year-old snowboarder was killed as the result of injuries he sustained in an avalanche on Mount Shields. The victim, Brian Curtis Wright, survived the avalanche but died while attempting to hike to safety.

  • Taterblade

    This is sad news. I met Ben when I was working at Whitefish High School. He was a special guy, as anyone can see from reading about all his accomplishments at such a young age. Condolences to all his friends and family.

  • Alan Swanson

    He was a good man. We had a lot of good adventures together. So sad.

  • Dave_Skinner

    This is a sad thing, but someone needs to point out that Mr. Parsons and his companions put others at risk here. Was it really wise to go up Stanton after the wind event last weekend, with temperatures so crazy low? Adventures are great, I like risk myself….but it is always a bad idea to expose others needlessly.
    So, while I’m sorry to hear of this, I’d suggest that we all take a step back and think things through all the way to the end.

    • Alan Swanson

      Too soon Dave Skinner, too soon.

    • Courtney

      Your comment is not necessary! I can imagine that you have made a mistake in your life! Have some empathy! This is exactly what is wrong with our world! This man was an amazing person and doesn’t deserve a stupid comment like yours!

    • Montana Mom

      I agree that it might be too soon, but I understand what you are trying to say. Remember though, he’s the one who truly paid the price so adding guilt to the situation isn’t necessary and hindsight is 20/20.

  • Shandi B.
  • Dani Jo Reel

    SO sad! I just phoned my son about this tragedy about his favorite Fair Mont Egan teacher. Prayers to his family!

  • Walt B

    There isn’t anybody to blame! It wasn’t a careless adventure. I’ve known Ben since he was 5 years old, He wasn’t alone, He was skilled, He had the proper gear, There weren’t abnormal avalanche warnings & moderate is always in place this time of year in the back country. It’s tragic, He was a great guy, He loved his life and lived it, Peace to his family and friends, We will miss him!

  • snowcat2

    The newspaper article did not say whether or not Mr. Parsons ever had any formal training in avalanche safety. There are some days when the only safe place to ski is at a ski area that does avalanche control work. Guessing that it is safe to go back country skiing is a risky approach to avalanche safety.

    • Keith Meehan

      These were our valley’s best ski mountaineers/athletes. Their experience/training/fitness was second to none. Why publicly guess otherwise? Sometimes really bad things just happen. Ben’s enthusiasm, heart, and energy inspires us daily…

    • Courtney

      Why is that you think it’s necessary to question a man who has passed about his safety for an avalanche. He was a very experienced back country skier which does relate to understanding avalanche safety! Why is it that you and Dave_skinner find it necessary to reprimand a man who has passed. There’s no point to either of your comments!

      • snowcat2

        The point of my comment is to educate other people (those who love to go back-country skiing) about how to better assess the risks. It is 100% obvious that Mr. Parsons did not correctly assess the avalanche danger on the day that he died. The rescue helicopter pilot said that the avalanche was a big one. Mr. Parsons didn’t die from simple burial — he died from serious trauma. In other words the avalanche beat him to death.

        When the avalanche forecasters say that the risk is “moderate” it doesn’t mean that there is no risk. Parsons chose to ski tour on a mountain at a time that proved to be very dangerous and he paid the ultimate price. This should be a teaching moment for other ski touring advocates so that they will not make the same mistake and suffer the same fate.

        • Courtney

          I understand that you want to educate others, but this is not the place to do so! This article was written about a very loved community member! His loved ones, family, and friends are the ones who are reading this and you trying to educate is not necessary on here. Did you know Ben Parsons personally were you there that day? No you were not! Only Ben, his friends who were with him, and god know what truly happened on that mountain the day he died. So it’s simple just keep your judgemental comments to yourself.

  • Gators

    So sorry for the loss of this young man and his family.

  • Ake_Odinsson

    Great guy. He will be missed. Went out doing what he loved though, can’t ask for more than that. Too soon of course.

  • MARTINPARSONS

    Skinner & Sno cat – do you read? did you know Ben? I am one of his uncles in Texas and I can personally attest to experiencing many adventures with Ben where HE reigned me in putting safety first. He was a super thoughtful well prepared pragmatist. An elite athlete though he was to humble to say that. He had, if you had read the papers, all the extreme avalanche protection stuff with him, cell phones, flares, shovels, gps devices & on & on. He went first down the slope to make sure it was ok for his two very close friends to follow. The reports said avalanche danger was moderate, not extreme – that day.
    They are dealing with unnecessary guilt. It was no one’s fault. Ben loved life as did his friends and all the other people who are attached to him in the Kalispell and all areas beyond. He knew the risks but he wasn’t stupid, which is what I feel your words implied, though I may be too close to be objective at this time. Ask any of the friends to cross a line drawn by your comments and I think you’ll basically be standing alone. As they say he was smarter than the average “Spirit Bear” yogi.

    Uncle Martin

  • Mamil Dujour

    This man was a joy to behold on the mountain or sitting in your living room. Incredible athleticism aside, his infectious enthusiasm for life will be greatly missed. This is truly a great loss.

  • Does anyone know whether he had one of those inflatable backpacks or whether one might have saved his life in this incident? There’s a recent video of somebody using one here:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NSMKdXvJ31M