Details Emerge in Avalanche Death of Idaho Skier

Robin Azer | BackcountryBackcountry | AvalancheAvalanche
GNFAC accident report from avalanche death in southwestern Montana
GNFAC accident report from avalanche death in southwestern Montana

Southwest Montana: The Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center (GNFAC) has released a report related to the avalanche skier death near Cooke City, Montana on December 11, 2016. Reminder, Chris Peterson, 55, of Ketchum, Idaho had been skiing with his 27-year-old son, Axel, from Bozeman, Montana when he was overtaken by an avalanche, buried beneath heavy snowpack, and sustained fatal injuries. Both experienced backcountry skiers, they had been cautiously exploring some fresh powder terrain on Henderson Mountain when the incident took place.

The recently released report reveals that as the two skiers came across this short run, they were joined by three others who had already taken a lap on this slope. The three skiers again descended in the same location , one at a time, leaving Peterson and his son at the top. Chris Peterson was next to descend and had made only two turns when the avalanche broke near the crown of the slope.

“The slope was 40-43 steep where it was triggered. The avalanche broke 3 feet deep, 80 feet wide at the crown, 150 feet wide mid- path and traveled 250 vertical feet. The slide carried him into a terrain trap of trees where he was completely buried.”

GNFAC

Prior to meeting up with the Peterson’s at the top of the slope, the three skiers had attempted to trigger an avalanche by jumping on the snowpack and skiing across it several times. They proceeded to ski the slope, twice, before the fatal avalanche ripped down the path.

After such attempts, “it’s easy to think it’s OK. But an unstable layer of depth hoar atop an icy base was essentially a mine field waiting for the right trigger. In this case, Chris found a weak zone in the snow and it was able to collapse and propagate.”

Doug Chabot, Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center

Peterson had been wearing an avalanche beacon and the skiers were able to locate him immediately. Unfortunately, it is thought he likely died due to trauma sustained during the avalanche.

The avalanche broke on a layer of well-developed facets that are sitting on an ice crust. The crack in the snowpit wall is a remnant slab that cracked, but did not slide down the hill in the avalanche. Photo: GNFAC
The avalanche broke on a layer of well-developed facets that are sitting on an ice crust. The crack in the snowpit wall is a remnant slab that cracked, but did not slide down the hill in the avalanche. Photo: GNFAC

 

The victim of the avalanche on Henderson Bench was buried 4-5 feet deep and wrapped around this tree. He was uncoverd in 15 minutes, but unfortunately did not survive. Photo GNFAC
The victim of the avalanche on Henderson Bench was buried 4-5 feet deep and wrapped around this tree. He was uncoverd in 15 minutes, but unfortunately did not survive. Photo GNFAC

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