Glacier National Park officials have released new information about Tuesday’s avalanche. It turns out a skier fell and triggered the avalanche, became partially buried and sustained significant injuries.
Park staff say the man suffered lacerations and broken ribs among his injuries. The two men had been skiing on Elk Mountain, just west of Marias Pass when the avalanche occurred. The non-injured man nearly became trapped in the avalanche’s path himself.
A third friend was able to call 911, and park staff say it was a rare occurrence to be able to get cell phone reception. The initial call came in at about 4:15 pm and by around 7:00 pm one skier was on the way to a hospital and the other on his way home.
The incident commander in the response efforts say weather proved difficult for responding agencies.
“We had a relatively decent idea of the area they were, but it’s dark, it’s thick trees, it’s snowing…and that always provides extra challenges,” said Eric Gabriel.
The responding agencies include park rangers, members of the Blackfeet Law Enforcement Services, Glacier County Sheriff’s Office, Flathead County Sheriff’s Office, Flathead County Search and Rescue and North Valley Search and Rescue.
NBC Montana stopped by the White Room ski shop in Whitefish on Wednesday, to talk to an experienced ski technician about avalanche safety. Jason Kiester volunteers with a backcountry ski patrol, and described the Elk Mountain area.
“It’s pretty steep, there’s lots of rocks, and definitely the snowpack is growing and there’s lot of things that you can be strained through or that you can hit if you do get caught in a slide,” said Kiester.
On Tuesday, the avalanche danger for the area was listed as “considerable,” according to the Flathead Avalanche Center. Kiester says he has gone out himself in at least those conditions, and that it all boils down to the individual and their skillset.
Park staff are reminding folks to check conditions and make sure to pack the proper gear when heading out into the backcountry. They are also encouraging folks to attend avalanche courses. Folks interested in attending a class can find more information here http://www.flatheadavalanche.org/education.