Snowmobiler, Skier Killed in Avalanches

By Beacon Staff

A pair of avalanches killed two Montana men along the Montana-Wyoming border over the holiday weekend as sunny skies enticed backcountry enthusiasts into the mountains where several feet of fresh snow created treacherous slopes.

A handful of others reported narrow escapes after being caught in slides, said Doug Chabot, director of the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center in Montana, on Sunday. But Chabot said no others were buried aside from the snowmobiler in Montana and the cross-country skier in Wyoming killed Saturday.

Park County officials Sunday identified the snowmobiler as a 46-year-old man from Sidney, Mont, and the skier as a 44-year-old man from Bozeman, Mont. Names were not released.

Chabot said the snowmobiler triggered the slide about noon Saturday north of Cooke City in southwestern Montana. The slide was up to 4-feet deep, 300- to 400-feet wide and ran about 1,300 vertical feet. He said the snowmobiler was uncovered by others in the group within 12 minutes but didn’t survive.

“If you’re dug up within 15 minutes you have an 85 percent chance of survival,” Chabot said. “I don’t know if it was trauma or suffocation.”

Chabot said two hours later and about five miles south, a skier traveling on flat ground in the North Absaroka Wilderness just across the border in Wyoming was engulfed by an avalanche that swept down a nearby slope. Park County officials said the skier was traveling with a partner who was not buried in the slide.

“The avalanche danger was so bad that you were able to trigger avalanches from flat terrain,” Chabot said. “We believe that’s what happened with the skier — that he was low down on a valley bottom when he triggered a slope.”

He said both bodies have been removed from the backcountry, though it’s unclear where they were taken. Park County officials in Montana didn’t release that information Sunday afternoon.

“We had a combination of factors making it incredibly dangerous,” Chabot said. “It happened on a holiday weekend. It was sunny and beautiful so people were out. Making it even more dangerous is the fact that we haven’t had snow. It’s been a lean winter. This was the first big snowfall of the year, so people were hungry for it.”

Chabot said the people caught in avalanches Saturday appeared to be alert to potential danger.

“As far as we know, everyone was carrying rescue gear,” he said. “They had partners. They were doing a lot of things right — only one person exposed at a time. Even taking those precautions there is always inherent risk.”

He said the 3 feet of snow over the last three days fell on an already unstable base.

“The snowpack was pretty rotten,” he said.

An avalanche warning remained in effect in the region Sunday, and officials recommended against traveling in avalanche terrain.

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