Detailed Accident Report
Submitted By: Angus M. Thuermer Jr
Place: Kettle Creek Drainage near Togwotee Pass
Summary: 2 snowmobilers caught, 1 killed , 1 injured
Slide kills Michigan snowmobiler
By Angus M. Thuermer Jr.
Jackson Hole News&Guide
A Michigan snowmobiler who went high-marking on Togwotee Pass in the face of considerable danger on Saturday became the state's fourth avalanche victim of the season.
County authorities identified the man as 43-year-old Marshall Hevelery of LaPeer, Mich. Hevelery had been on a guided tour in the Kettle Creek area 9 miles south of Cowboy Village Resort when he zoomed up a hillside to help a friend free a stuck snowmobile.
The two provoked a slide that fractured 30 yards across the slope, broke two-and-a-half feet deep, entrained another avalanche and rushed 200 yards downhill, authorities said. The incident happened in a spot known as the narrows of Kettle Creek, at an elevation of approximately 9,000 feet.
Hevelery's death is the fourth in Wyoming, which leads the nation in such fatalities this season. His is the 10th avalanche death in the U.S. and the 20th in North America. Two deaths have been in Teton County.
Friends found Hevelery's partner, Gregory Roth, on the surface with an injured knee. Seven riders from the original group of 12 began a search for the victim with limited gear.
At least a shovel and probe pole were at the scene, officials said. But Hevelery was not wearing a transceiver.
Friends uncovered Hevelery from under two to three feet of snow about 20 minutes. His body was located with a probe pole. Friends and rescuers performed CPR to no avail. He was married and the father of two.
The excursion took place on a day when the Bridger-Teton National Forest avalanche forecast for the Togwotee area called for "considerable" danger. The daily forecast is available on the Web at jhavalanche.org or by calling 733-2664.
Considerable danger is a condition where human-triggered avalanches are probable. The two men were riding up a northeast facing slope that varied from 25 to 38 degrees, the latter being a perfect steepness for snow slides.
"Roth was high-marking," Teton County deputy Terry Bart said on Sunday. "That's what they were both doing."
The activity involves riding as high up a steep slope as possible, then rushing back down. Roth got his machine stuck and Hevelery went up to help, authorities said.
The forecast warned that avalanches ran on Friday and said conditions remained dangerous, especially on northeast slopes.
"Dense slabs formed by west winds lie upon a weak snowpack comprised of faceted snow," the Saturday morning forecast said. "Yesterday natural- and human-triggered slab avalanches were reported in the Togwotee Pass area. These DANGEROUS slabs occurred on northeast aspects and stepped down to the ground. Similar events could be triggered today in steep avalanche-prone terrain."
The avalanche occurred at approximately 1:30 p.m. Two volunteer search-and-rescue members, Mike Moyer and Arlo Neiderer, were flown by the county's Hawkins and Powers contract helicopter to the scene. Authorities believe Hevelery suffocated.
Bart said the snowmachiners were regulars in the area and knew how to ride.
"These guys were extremely experienced, hard-core snowmachiners," he said. "They bring their snow machines out here and leave them in Dubois and come four times a year." The sleds are "highly modified, state-of-the art," Bart said.
"You don't get any more experienced than these guys," Bart said of the riders. "Obviously it doesn't matter how experienced you are."
Search-and-rescue director Tim Ciocarlan said the incident does teach some lessons. He said getting high-marking riders unstuck should be a delicate operation.
"The worst thing you can possible do is go up there and get them," he said. "You're looking for trouble. Let them get themselves unstuck. Make a plan," in case a slide does happen.
Avalanche forecasters have warned about the dangers of high-marking. They also have said that this year's snowpack may take substantial triggers - like several snowmobile riders or skiers - before a slide occurs.
Signs of danger were evident beyond the forecast, Ciocarlan said. "There were numerous avalanches visible in the same area," he said.
A crew of 17 volunteers mobilized for the operation in case a rescue or recovery couldn't be managed by helicopter, he said. The airship performed in deteriorating conditions and evacuated Roth. Hevelery's body was removed by rescue sled.
The first avalanche death in Wyoming this season occurred Dec. 26, when a Colorado man was buried while snowmobiling near Medicine Bow Peak. On Jan. 4, backcountry snowboarder Tristan Picot, 19, of France, died near Teton Pass. Another snowmobiler, 16-year-old Joshua Roy Richins, died in an avalanche the following day near Sheep Pass in the Salt River Range.