Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2008-01-13
Submitted By: Glacier Avalanche Center; Bones
Place: Fiberglass Hill north of Columbia Falls
State: MT
Country: USA
Fatalities: 2
Summary: 3 people caught. 1 partially buried. 2 skiers buried, and killed


Canyon Creek - Skiers Killed

13 Jan 2008 - In Northwestern Montana on Sunday 1-13-08, numerous downhill skiers from the Whitefish Mountain Resort at Big Mountain were yo-yo skiing out of bounds into the Canyon Creek drainage of the southern Whitefish Range. This is an area north of the town of Whitefish, Montana and northeast and behind the summit of the ski area.

Just after noon a lone skier triggered a 1-4 foot deep slab avalanche on a very steep, south facing slope commonly referred to as Fiberglass Hill. This is in the same area where a snowmobiler was seriously injured in an avalanche in mid December and another snowmobiler lost his machine in an avalanche a day later. A skiing eye witness watched the skier as he triggered the slide and was subsequently swept through trees and buried near the bottom of the draw. The witness also saw the burial of two other skiers who were walking in the bottom on the groomed snowmobile trail leading to the nearby pass into the Big Creek drainage. A snowmobiler on the groomed trail east and outside the avalanche area, observed two other skiers run from the avalanche and become buried as they also were walking up the groomed trail toward the Big Creek pass.

The skiing eye witness quickly responded to the site of the skier who had trigged the slide and uncovered him. The victim subsequently died at the scene of massive trauma after having been strained in the avalanche through evergreen trees. One of the skiers walking on the groomed trail was only partially buried and able to free himself. His companion however was totally buried. A tremendous search effort was initiated by volunteer skiers and snowboarders from the ski area, other backcountry skiers, snowmobilers passing by, patrolling Forest Service law enforcement officers, and by the Whitefish Mountain Ski Patrol. A beacon search was unable to locate any of the three remaining victims.

The Flathead County Sheriff's office was notified and the self rescued victim's companion was located by an organized probe line several hours later. This victim was declared deceased at the scene from asphyxia. Without success, probing continued until approx. 8:30 PM for the other two reported victims near the east edge of the avalanche. At that time the search was suspended for the night. The following morning, Monday, an avalanche control team from the ski area used explosives to reduce the avalanche hazard above the search area. After the control activity four search dog teams scoured the entire debris zone with no success. Afterwards organized probing was again resumed, but again to no avail. Further search efforts are scheduled to resume Tuesday morning and again on Wednesday if necessary.

A snow pit investigation on Monday along the ridge and above the crown fracture indicated that the failing weak layer was the contract between the failing slab and a buried melt freeze ice layer formed earlier in December. The crown fracture is as steep as 40-45 degrees in the rock outcrops and cliffs near the ridge. The avalanche was approx. 800 feet wide and ran approx. 1,100 feet slope distance, encompassing several chutes. The debris deposition is well over a probe length and estimated to be up to 20 feet deep in some places. Nearly 60 hours of mild air temperatures in the upper 20's following a relatively prolonged period of colder temperatures are believe to have helped contribute to the fatal human triggered avalanche.

Stan Bones, Flathead National Forest

*********END REPORT***********


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Avalanche at Canyon Creek

By JOHN STANG/The Daily Inter Lake

An avalanche killed two men Sunday afternoon along the Canyon Creek trail.

Searchers are hunting for possibly two additional people -- unsure whether they are missing or avoided the slide.

The two dead men were backcountry skiers, said Flathead County Sheriff Mike Meehan. He declined to release their identities early Sunday evening.

There were sightings of two other skiers in the avalanche area before it occurred, but no one had notified searchers of anyone missing as of early Sunday evening.

Meehan said searchers will assume at least two people are missing until that matter is cleared up. It was unknown at 8:30 p.m. whether the search would continue through the night, a sheriff's dispatcher said.

The avalanche occurred about 12:10 p.m. on Fiberglass Hill, which is about six miles from the Canyon Creek trailhead and roughly halfway between Big Mountain and the trailhead.

One of the dead skiers was near the top of the avalanche, and the other was walking along the Canyon Creek trail when the slide occurred, searchers said. At least two snowmobilers witnessed the avalanche.

One body was found at 1:18 p.m., and the other was found at 4:16 p.m.

At one point, about 100 people were searching and probing the ground in an area accessible only by snowmobiles. No avalanche beacon signals were found.

The avalanche was at least 200-300 yards wide, more than 150 yards long and at least 25 feet deep at its front edge, said Bob Field, a law enforcement officer with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Searchers included the Flathead County Sheriff's Office, the Flathead Search and Rescue Team, the North Valley Search and Rescue Team, Three Rivers Ambulance Service, the ALERT helicopter, U.S. Forest Service and the Nordic Ski Patrol.

Lake and Lincoln counties' search-and-rescue teams are scheduled to join the effort today.

The Canyon Creek trail is closed to those not involved with the search.

Flathead County's last avalanche deaths occurred Jan. 16, 2006, when two snowmobilers -- Danelle Bloom, 22, and Christopher Schmaltz, 21, both of Kalispell -- died on the north side of Red Meadow Lake, 19 miles north of Olney. A third snowmobiler survived.

On March 1, 2007, Creston snowmobiler Ryan Roberts, 34, got caught in an avalanche in the Jewel Basin. He survived after almost eight hours of being buried beneath 4 feet of snow.

Last month, a young man on a snowmobile suffered a broken leg after being caught in an avalanche in the Canyon Creek area. Friends immediately dug him out.

Reporter John Stang may be reached at 758-4429 or by e-mail at


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Two killed in Flathead County avalanche

Posted: Jan 13, 2008 07:43 PM MST

Updated: Jan 13, 2008 09:56 PM MST

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Northwestern Montana Avalanche Info

Two people were killed after an avalanche hit on Fiberglass Hill north of Columbia Falls and Whitefish on Sunday afternoon.

Authorities tell us that two men are dead and it's not clear if there are any more victims still buried under the snow in the third avalanche that's hit in the Canyon Creek Drainage area in the past month.

Flathead County Sheriff Mike Meehan says that while both of the victims were back country skiers, it does not appear they were skiing together.

It's still unknown at this time what triggered the massive slide, which hit about 12:30 p.m. on Sunday.

As of 9:00 p.m. on Sunday, the search for any other possible missing people was suspended in order to protect the safety of the search and rescue team.

Sheriff Meehan says that many volunteers and responders searched the area on Sunday.

"We've got 100 search and rescue, Nordic Ski Patrol, and also search and rescue [teams] from Flathead and North Valley Search and Rescue on the hill."

The Sheriff adds that rescue teams plan to resume the search at around 8:00 a.m. on Monday and that for now the Canyon Creek Drainage area is currently closed to the public.

So far, officials say that they aren't ready to release the names of those killed in Sunday's avalanche.

This is the third snowslide that's hit in the area this winter. Late last month a 19 year old got caught by an avalanche on his snowmobile and broke his leg.

Then on the next day, a second snowmobiler survived a slide which also in the area behind the Whitefish Mountain Resort.

For any overnight developments on this story watch Montana This Morning on Montana's News Station

- Angela Monroe reporting from KAJ in Kalispell