Detailed Accident Report
Submitted By: JHMR
Place: Avalanche Bowl, Teton Pass
Summary: 1 solo snowboarder caught, buried, and killed
Please visit: www.jhguide.com
Brother calls death
an avalanche warning
? County?s third slide victim is found by retriever.
By Angus M. Thuermer Jr.
Jackson Hole News&Guide
The brother of a 27-year-old snowboarder who died in an avalanche while
riding alone on Teton Pass last week said he hopes others learn a lesson
from the tragedy.
Peter Volf, the older brother of Pavel ?Paul? Volf said Monday that
calling his parents in the Czech Republic to relay the bad news was the
hardest thing he?s ever had to do. ?I just wish there was no brother
that would ever have to do that,? Peter Volf said.
He made his comments in a Jackson condominium, surrounded by three Czech
friends who are part of a community of young, sports-minded
outdoor-loving residents. Pavel, just into his third winter season,
found a heaven in that society. He so loved the activities and freedom
available in the American West, he never had time to watch television.
Search dog Soleil and handler Jason O?Neill, working under the
threatening slope named Avalanche Bowl, pinpointed Volf?s body Friday
afternoon under four feet of avalanche debris. Friends and searchers
still are uncertain when he left for his solo run on the south side of
Teton Pass. Pavel Volf?s roommate was not in town last week so Volf?s
absence was not immediately noticed. Friends said it was not uncommon to
be out of touch for a couple of days.
It was a regular Teton Pass skier who first noticed signs of trouble.
Keith Benefiel was enjoying the powder on KB ridge Feb. 29 when he saw a
track cutting off the crest and onto a steep face. It went only a few
yards before disappearing over the crown of an avalanche; the rest of
the slope below had slid away and lay in a jumbled pile of debris
running more than 200 yards down a gully below.
?I knew I was looking at the tracks of a dead man,? Benefiel said. The
former Search and Rescue volunteer two seasons ago found the tracks of
avalanche victim Johnny Beal who left the same ridge before being buried
alone in another gully below.
Last week, Benefiel could not determine whether there were tracks out of
the bottom of the slide. He skied down on the relatively safe crest of
the ridge, knowing that any descent to the gully to check out the debris
would be folly. He shouted down. There was no response.
At home in Wilson, Benefiel reported his observation to his former team.
For the next two nights, he had trouble sleeping.
Search and Rescue director Tim Ciocarlan said that absent a report of a
missing person, Benefiel?s clues were too meager to launch a search.
Protecting searchers in the gully, something that was ultimately
undertaken after Volf was reported missing, required a seven-hour
operation, use of a helicopter and 27 hand charges.
Peter Volf was the next person to sense trouble when his brother didn?t
show up for work on Thursday. He called friends, then found his
brother?s car at the bottom of the Pass. It had snow on it and had been
Immediately, Peter Volf and two friends geared up and headed for KB
Ridge, begining their search at about midnight Thursday. They were in
touch with a friend who notified authorities. The group followed the
ridge down until they were able to enter the gully off its south side
via a slope they felt was somewhat less threatening. They skied to
perhaps 200 yards of where Paul Volf was eventually found, hoping he
might be stranded with a broken leg.
When they heard an alarming mass settling of the snowpack, they
abandoned their sorrowful quest and retreated. Peter Volf said he never
would have gone into the danger zone had he not been looking for his own
Friday?s search began at 6 a.m. and involved a core of volunteers and
two dogs. Bombing took until early afternoon and produced several slides
that covered the previous debris. It was not until about 1 p.m. that a
couple of searchers and the dogs set foot on the slope.
Searchers first combed the area with avalanche transceiver but picked up
no signal. They hoped Volf had been wearing a beacon.
O?Neill, a Grand Targhee Ski and Summer Resort ski patroller, took
Soleil uphill to the starting zone. The snow was so wet and soft he had
to break trail for the four-year-old mutt retriever. Only a couple of
weeks after being certified by the Canada Avalanche Rescue Dog
Association, Soleil was a trooper, sniffing trees where debris was
piled, working the slope for about two hours.
O?Neill then took Soleil down the fall line and paused near the toe of
?I was just taking a break,? he said. ?All of a sudden she got up and
started moving into the slope. She had that look. She had something, I
One hundred fifty feet feet from the burial site, Soleil lost the scent.
?She ended up at a spruce tree,? O?Neill said. ?She checked it out. The
wind changed, she turned left and 10 feet away she started digging.?
O?Neill double checked the indication by skiing on by to see if the pup
would follow him. Soleil remained focused on her spot.
?She kept digging hard,? O?Neill said. ?As soon as I probed, I knew what
Volf was buried under about two feet from the slide he provoked. The
other two feet of snow slid into the gully from the search team?s
The dogs reduced rescue workers? exposure to new slides, O?Neill said.
?It would have taken a 6- to 10-man probe line to work the gully,? he
said. Instead, two people and two dogs were exposed.
The county?s contract Hawkins and Powers helicopter recovered Volf using
a cargo net. Teton County Coroner Bob Campbell said Volf died of
suffocation. He is the the third avalanche victim in Teton County this
season and the second to be killed in a week. On Jan. 25 a Minnesota
snowmobiler died on Togwotee Pass. Also on Jan. 28 Chris Terrell was
swept 500 feet down Cody Peak by a slab avalanche but managed to survive
with some broken bones. The county?s first fatality was Jan 5 when a
French snowboarder died of trauma north of the Pass highway.
The Bridger-Teton National Forest Backcountry avalanche forecast rated
danger Friday, the search day, as ?high? at all elevations. The rating
was as low as ?moderate? earlier in the week at the elevation where Volf
was found. Moderate means areas of unstable snow exist and that
human-triggered avalanches are possible.
The daily forecast is available at 733-2664 and on the Internet at
Teton County accounts for 27 percent of the avalanche deaths in the U.S.
this season. Five people have been killed in the Equality State this
winter, accounting for 46 percent of the U.S. total.
O?Neill said Soleil got a treat that night at home in Driggs.
?She got a T-bone,? he said. ?I got the fillet but she got the strip and
the bone. She was a happy dog.?
02/01/2003 - TP - South East and Central Teton Pass (elev: N/A) - Lynne
Avalanche Bowl, JH Radio .com report
Avalanche Bowl, JH Radio .com report
Class: N/A Aspect: N/A Slope: N/A
Crown Width: N/A m Crown Depth: N/A m
Path Length: N/A m
Slide Trigger: N/A
Anyone Caught: 1
02/01/03 UPDATE The avalanche death toll has risen to 3 for the year in Teton County. The Teton County Sheriff's Office received a report of a missing snowboarder late Thursday night. Friends of 27 year-old Pavel Volf said he had not been seen since Monday. Teton County Search and Rescue teams were called out on Friday morning. Volf's car was located at the base of the Old Pass Road and appeared to have been there for at least a couple of days. A Wilson resident had reported seeing an avalanche on Avalanche bowl on Wednesday, so that's where the S&R team started their search. Because of the high avalanche danger, explosives were detonated in Avalanche Bowl before volunteers went in. Jason O'Neil's Wyoming Canine Search Dog Soleil picked up on Volf's scent at about 3:30 in the afternoon, and the body was located with probes. The victim was buried under about 4 feet of snow. The body was airlifted from the slope. Teton County Search and Rescue Director Tim Ciocarlan said Volf was prepared for back country travel with two crucial exceptions - he was boarding alone and he was not wearing a transceiver. Avalanche conditions have been "Considerable" to "Extreme" this week. The Bridger Teton National Forest Avalanche forecast is available on the web. Go to www.jacksonholeradio for a link, or call for updated conditions at 733-2664.
BTNF Forecast for February 01, 2003:
Elev AM PM
High Cons High
Mid Cons High
Low Cons High
Very warm temperatures, rain and strong southwest winds continue to create unstable conditions. Dense slabs up to several feet in depth exist in steep wind loaded starting zones and cliff areas. At the mid and upper elevations these DANGEROUS slabs could be triggered today. In the big peaks large destructive naturally triggered avalanches could entrain large volumes of snow and run full track to the valley floor. Wet slides which could step to the ground are possible at the mid and lower elevations especially if significant rain occurs. With new snow and rain in the forecast the hazard will increase as the day progresses. TRAVEL IN AVALANCHE TERRAIN IS NOT RECOMMENDED THIS AFTERNOON OR EVENING.
Conditions in Previous 24 Hours:
5am temp Max temp Wind Dir Ave Speed Max Gust Snow Prec. Dens. Tot.Snow
10,400' 28? F 30? F Southwesterly 33 MPH MPH 64 MPH MPH Raymer 1 " 0.15 " 15.00 % 75 in.