Detailed Accident Report
Submitted By: Scott Schmidt, GNFAC
Place: Mt. Abundance, north of Cooke City
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
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