In a season that has been defined by a wildly variable snowpack across the U.S., along with late season storms delivering new snow in warmer weather, recent avalanches serve as a somber reminder to always be alert and plan ahead when traveling through avalanche terrain.
This past weekend, skiers and snowboarders triggered two avalanches with severe consequences, one just outside Bridger Bowl, Montana, on Saturday, and the other along Teton Pass in Wyoming on Friday. While everyone walked away unscathed in Wyoming, one skier died in the popular lift-served backcountry area south of the Bridger Bowl boundary. These events come just a few weeks after a longtime Pemberton local and Whistler guide, Lisa Korthals, perished in an avalanche while skiing with clients in the Coast Mountains.
According to the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center, last week more than three feet of new snow had fallen on the Bridger Ranger north of Bozeman. It was closing weekend at Bridger, and supposed to be a celebratory end to a season marked by prodigious snowfall. At around 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, April 14, 39-year-old Bozeman local Anthony Saracelli exited the southern boundary of Bridger Bowl and began hiking to the summit of Saddle Peak. Upon skiing down, forecasters say he triggered an avalanche, carrying him down a 1,500-vertical-foot face. A skier on the nearby Schlasman's chair witnessed the avalanche and alerted ski patrol at the top of the lift. After an hour, members of the Bridger Bowl Ski Patrol located Saracelli and administered CPR, but such efforts were unsuccessful. While the skier was wearing a beacon, a requirement for everyone who wants to ride the Schlasmann's chair, he was not skiing with a partner.
"The avalanche fatality on Saddle Peak this past Saturday is a somber reminder that avalanche season is far from over," says a post from the Friends of the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center Facebook page. "Snow stability is complicated this time of year and conditions can change very quickly. Sun, snow, rain, gusty winds, and rapidly warming temperatures are all factors in the spring. Anticipate rapidly changing conditions and plan accordingly."
A day prior to the incident in Montana, two snowboarders triggered an avalanche on Teton Pass that covered the busy highway, partially burying a truck in its path. The driver, Brian Siegfried, a Jackson local who has been skiing the pass since 1992, was heading back down the pass in his truck after finding the upper parking lot full just after 9 a.m. "It all happened pretty fast. I just remember all of a sudden there was snow coming down," says Siegfried. The snow buried his truck up to the bottom of his doors, and Siegfried, who was not injured, escaped by climbing out the passenger door window.
While no one was buried in the slide, Siegfried says there is a lot to be learned from accidents like this. "I was treating it like a spring day, I had sneakers on and my shovel and transceiver were in the back of the truck and not in the cab," he says. "What if there was a third skier that was buried? When we're out there, we're all first responders, and should be ready to help out if need be. We can all afford to be a little more prepared."
The avalanche closed the highway for several hours to allow the Wyoming Department of Transportation to clear the snow and conduct avalanche control. Siegfried commended the work of WYDOT, noting, "This little avalanche was just a part of what they dealt with that day. It's all about the respect for them and the work they do."