Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2002-02-16
Submitted By: Scott Schmidt, GNFAC
Place: Mt. Abundance, north of Cooke City
State: MT
Country: USA
Fatalities: 2
Summary: 3 snowmobilers caught, 2 buried and killed

SNIPPIT From 02/18/02 Forecast Advisory;

Official Report will be posted when available.

Ron and Doug went to Cooke City to investigate the avalanche that claimed the lives of two

snowmobilers on Saturday. Five riders were playing on the south side of Mount

Abundance when they triggered the slide. Two of the riders were able to turn their sleds

and escaped to the side of the flow. Of the three that where caught, one was deposited on

the surface with a broken nose, the other two were completely buried. The buried victims

were not wearing avalanche transceivers, leaving the party no choice but to send someone

to alert Search and Rescue. Approximately 80 people, comprised of the organized search

party and people riding in the area, started probing the debris while they waited the arrival

of avalanche search dogs. Once on scene, the dogs quickly located the victims, who were

buried 2-3 feet deep.

The avalanche released on a weak layer of well-developed, faceted snow sitting on an ice

crust. This weak sandwich, which formed on south facing slopes in the Cooke City

Mountains back in early January, is the same layer that was responsible for the avalanche

that injured a Billings man on January 27th. The slope that avalanche Saturday had an

average slope angle of 34 degrees, increasing to 38 degrees at the crown line. The total

fracture was 300 feet across and the avalanche ran 600 vertical feet. Giving good visibility,

Ron and Doug got a chance to look around and only saw the remains of one other

avalanche that released on a south-facing slope last week. They also saw tracks from a

sledder who punched to the top of a south-facing slope right next to three chutes that slid

on February 2nd. This is a shining example of the problem associated with the isolated

weak layers in the southern mountains. People are getting after it on all aspects without

triggering avalanches. As a result they grow confident and forget to be on their avalanche

guard. Some south facing slopes around Cooke City are locked and loaded to avalanche.

Some aren?t. The same applies to northeast facing slopes in the Lionhead area where a

layer of surface hoar, buried approximately 2-3 feet below the surface, is still a concern.

This means it is possible, but not probable, you?ll trigger and avalanche on any given slope.

For today, I consider the avalanche danger to be MODERATE all slopes steeper than 35

degrees and LOW on less steep terrain in the southern mountains.


Two snowmobilers killed in avalanche near Cooke City

By the Associated Press

BOZEMAN (AP) - A group of "high-marking" snowmobilers triggered an

avalanche Saturday morning near Cooke City that trapped three men,

killing two, Park County officials said.

Deputy Coroner Larry McKee said the group of five snowmobilers were

"high-marking," which involves riding up a slope as far as possible

before being forced to turn around.

McKee said that was definitely the cause of the avalanche, which traveled

approximately 1,000 feet down the south side of the mountain, taking the

three snowmobilers with it.

One man was able to dig his way out of the slide. The names and

hometowns of the victims were not released Saturday night, but

Undersheriff Scott Hamilton said both victims were from Montana.

Park County Search and Rescue, the Forest Service and the Park Service

responded to the Wolverine Pass area north of Yellowstone National

Park at approximately 11 a.m., McKee said. The slide occurred about an

hour earlier.

None of the snowmobilers were carrying transceivers, and it took

searchers with probes and dog teams until about 3 p.m. to recover the


One of the bodies was found near the bottom of the avalanche, said Bill

Blackford, a volunteer with Search and Rescue and Cooke City

Emergency Medical Services. The other body was located behind a tree.

Blackford said the avalanche was a large one, with "chunks of snow

bigger than refrigerators." The victims were buried at least 4 feet under

the surface.