Ski Patroller Killed in Montana Avalanche

State reports three slides in two weeks, danger remains high

The first skier of three triggered a large avalanche in Frazier Basin on "Big Red" in the northern Bridger Range. No one was caught. PHOTO: Friends of the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center
The first skier of three triggered a large avalanche in Frazier Basin on “Big Red” in the northern Bridger Range. No one was caught. PHOTO: Friends of the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center

A ski patrol member of the Yellowstone Club died on Tuesday in an avalanche near Big Sky, Montana.

Darren Johnson, 34, was one of two patrolmen accompanying two graduate students from Montana State University to collect snow data near Cedar Basin, west of Big Sky, when the slide occurred. According to a report from the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center, Johnson jumped off a cornice and made two turns before the slope fractured, carrying him into the trees. His partners were able to retrieve him, but he ultimately succumbed to fatal injuries. Johnson had been with the Yellowstone Club since 2010.

According to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, this is the seventh avalanche related death in the U.S. this season. The center’s statistics show that January and February have the highest fatalities due to avalanches. For Montana, this was the third reported avalanche in just two weeks. Bad news struck Jackson Hole this week as well, as a splitboarder was killed in an avalanche while doing a solo descent of Pyramid Peak, about halfway between the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and the town of Wilson.

On January 14, an avalanche was triggered in the backcountry near Lookout Pass, on the border of Montana and Idaho, burying three skiers.

A search and rescue team arrived quickly with a helicopter and snowmobiles to support the operation. The first man rescued was found in critical condition and immediately sent to the nearest hospital. He is currently being treated for a broken leg at Sacred Heart Hospital in Spokane, Washington. The two others were rescued successfully.

That same day, an avalanche occurred near Bridger Bowl in an out-of-bounds area called the Football Field. Respondents searched the area and confirmed no one was caught in the slide.

The current avalanche advisory from the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center based out of Bozeman, Montana, remains high. Farther north, the Missoula Avalanche Center’s avalanche advisory is moderate.

In this video released Thursday morning, Doug Chabot of the GNFAC investigates an avalanche that caught and killed Johnson. The video provides an excellent educational opportunity for skiers seeking answers about what went wrong. Learn from the tragedy, and be respectful in your assessment.

For more information on snow safety, see POWDER’s The Human Factor 2.0.