Detailed Accident Report
Submitted By: NW Montana Glacier Country Avalanche Ctr
Place: Marias Pass near Kalispell
Summary: 2 snowmobilers killed
Stan Bones; NW Montana GCAC
Sunday morning a party of 8 snowmobilers were riding in the Puzzle Creek
area off the Skyland Road just west of Marias Pass on Highway 2. Around
11:00 in the morning after traversing the trees and creek bottom they
approached a deep ravine called the Puzzle Slide. Our understanding is
that one snowmobile with rider and two riders on foot had entered the tight
draw. The rider probably became stuck and after the three freed and turned
the machine around, he rode back out, changed to another machine, and
reentered the draw again. Returning to the location where he had last seen
the two riders on foot, he found avalanche debris up to 20' deep and not a
sign of his companions.
Neither of the victims were wearing a resuce beacon. A surface search,
random digging, and probing with tree stems cut on-site yielded no clues.
At approx. 1 PM authorities were notified and search and rescue units were
dispatched. The vicitms were found and uncovered under 7' to 10' of very
dense avalanche debris around 6:30 PM. Both died of suffocation.
The avalanche was a soft slab of mostly recent snow deposited upon an old
surface crust of angular and faceted grains. The crown depth was hardly
over 2' at its deepest. Slab size was roughly 150' wide by 125' slope
distance, a relativley small slide. The key to this accident however was
the confinement of the draw. Even a small amount of avalanching snow here
means a deep burial in the bottom. A very short slide time left the
victims hardly time to recognize the threat and turn in an attempt to flee.
This was a perfect terrain trap. When the steel jaws snap shut here, there
is no escape. All travelers need to be alert for these locations and enter
them only as a last resort and then only after pulling out all the
avalanche safety stops, even in the best of times.
Taken from the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center advisory on 12/18/00
Sad news from our friends up north. Yesterday we received a call informing us that
two snowmobilers were killed in an avalanche that occurred up by Kalispell. Details
are sketchy and all we know is that the accident occurred up by Marias Pass. The
weak layer of snow that is responsible for this avalanche is the same sugary facets we
have been discussing in our area. This weak, sugary layer extends over a large part of
the northern Rockies and is also the cause of several avalanche fatalities in the
Jackson Hole area.
FROM THE MISSOULIAN
By CHRIS PETERSON Lee Montana Newspapers
COLUMBIA FALLS - Two Cut Bank men died in an avalanche Sunday
morning west of Marias Pass about 15 miles from U.S. 2.
The accident occurred shortly after 11 a.m., but Flathead County
Search and Rescue crews didn't receive the call until nearly 1:30 p.m.
The first body was recovered at 5:23 p.m., and the second at 6:04 p.m.,
Flathead County authorities said. The men's names are being withheld
until their families can be notified.
The two men were snowmobiling on the Skyland Road, just south of
Glacier National Park, but were not on their snowmobiles at the time of
the accident, according to rescuers at the scene.
The two were snowmobiling with a group of other men in an area
known as "the chute," a narrow, windy canyon about 15 miles from the
highway. The two men had left their sleds and were helping other
snowmobilers turn around after they got stuck.
One snowmobiler turned around and headed back up the chute, only to
find that it had filled with at least 20 feet of snow and the two men
were gone, a rescuer said. No one apparently heard the avalanche.
Neither man was carrying a transponder, which would have pinpointed
their location under the snow.
At least 30 people were involved in the search, with members of the
Flathead and Glacier County Sheriff departments, North Valley Search
and Rescue and a host of volunteers assisting in the effort.
A search dog also was taken to the scene.
The chute is a well-known snowmobiling area, said Jack Thompson of
the North Valley Search and Rescue. Avalanche reports from the
Glacier County Avalanche Center have rated the avalanche danger in
that area as high because of the unstable snowpack.
Snowmobilers that were in the area of the accident reported there was
no base to the snow, that it was all powder.
Cold temperatures had weakened the early snowpack, and heavier
snow fell on top of that base.
It was snowing heavily and extremely windy as rescuers conducted
Chris Peterson is a reporter for the Hungry Horse News. The
Associated Press contributed to this story.