Report: Idaho avalanche that killed 3 started by skiers

Posted at 11:15 AM, Jan 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-15 13:15:30-05

KELLOGG, Idaho (AP) — An avalanche at an Idaho ski resort that killed three people last week was triggered by skiers, despite the efforts of the ski patrol to mitigate the danger, according to a preliminary investigation.

The Idaho Panhandle Avalanche Center said the ski patrol had taken steps on Jan. 7 to prevent avalanches at the Silver Mountain Resort near Kellogg, Idaho.

’’They had done their control work just like they always do,” Jeff Thompson, the director of the avalanche center, told The Spokesman-Review newspaper. “In fact, I think they did more than they normally do to open that slope.”

Three skiers died and two others were pulled alive from the snow after the avalanche. A few other skiers were partially buried.

The avalanche occurred beneath an area of difficult and expert runs.

Thompson said the movement of skiers along the flank of the peak triggered the avalanche.

IPAC provides avalanche forecasts in northern Idaho.

Thompson said he raced to Silver Mountain on Jan. 7 with his avalanche dog to assist in the search. After he was no longer needed, he started to investigate the cause.

According to his preliminary report, the 300-foot-wide (91 meters) avalanche released about 90 feet (27 meters) from the top of Wardner Peak, tumbling down the ski run called 16 to 1.

Once the snow started sliding, the avalanche traveled more than 900 feet (274 meters) down the steep slope.

Snow science is notoriously complex, which made it possible for an avalanche to occur in an area that had been bombed and controlled by the resort, Thompson said.

“There are no fingers to be pointed from IPACs standpoint,” he said.

“Sometimes explosives and mitigation practices aren’t enough,” he said. “Mother Nature has a mind of her own.”