Montana avalanche centers have completed investigations into the recent deaths of two men in snow slides.
The West Central Montana Avalanche Center said Peter Maxwell, 27, of Missoula, was doing what avalanche experts recommend — gathering information about the snowpack before a planned backcountry ski trip in the mountains northeast of Philipsburg — when he triggered the March 10 avalanche that killed him.
“Peter was performing stability tests when this happened,” center director Steve Karkanen told the Missoulian. “He was gathering information before he committed to an activity, which is what we encourage everyone who goes in the backcountry to do.”
The next day, the manager of a Cooke City hotel told a group of Minnesota snowmobilers that the avalanche danger was high and he recommended that they not go out, the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center learned in its investigation of the death of Zach Junkermeier of Lake Lillian, Minn.
The group decided they’d be safe if they avoided avalanche terrain and stayed in the trees and meadows. But they took more risks in the afternoon after seeing other riders do the same, said Eric Knoff with the Gallatin center.
“I don’t think they quite knew the beast they were dealing with,” Knoff told The Billings Gazette.
At about 4 p.m., Junkermeier, 18, rode about a third of the way up Crown Butte. Two fellow riders rode uphill past him, triggering the fatal slide, Knoff said.
“His greatest wish in life was to ride his snowmobile out West,” his obituary read. “It is all he ever talked about.”
It was the beginning of a difficult week in the Cooke City area.
On March 13, a Canadian snowmobiler died when he tried to jump a creek on his sled just northwest of where Junkermeier was killed. Two days later, another Canadian snowmobiler suffered two broken legs and dislocated knees when he was caught in an avalanche while descending the south side of nearby Mount Abundance. All but his head was buried, center officials said. That same day, another snowmobiler triggered a slide but was able to deploy a personal air bag that kept him on top of the snow.
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