Wyoming reports second avalanche fatality in a week

A snowboarder was caught and buried in an avalanche on Wyoming’s Togwotee Pass on Thursday afternoon. He was flown to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. This is the second avalanche fatality in Wyoming this week and the 28th in the United States this season.

The site of the February 18 Togwotee Pass avalanche. Courtesy Bridger-Teton National Forest Avalanche Center/Teton County Search and Rescue

According to the Jackson Hole News and Guide, the victim was identified as Jackson resident Michael McKelvey, 31. McKelvey was snowboarding with five friends on Togwotee Pass, which is located about an hour north of Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park. The group was sessioning a large jump that landed in a steep, north-facing drainage. When McKelvey hit the jump and landed, he triggered an avalanche with a five-foot crown that buried him under 10 to 12 feet of debris.

McKelvey’s group notified Teton County Search and Rescue (TCSAR) at 12 p.m. and started to perform a rescue. The group was able to locate McKelvey with beacons and a probe just as 10 TCSAR members, who had been conducting a training exercise a few miles away, arrived on the scene. McKelvey did not have a pulse when he was first extricated but was revived on scene with an AED by TCSAR. He was taken to an ambulance on Togwotee Pass, which then carried him to the Jackson Hole Airport, from where he was flown to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center, where he was later pronounced dead.

The Bridger-Teton National Forest Avalanche Center’s (BTNF) Thursday report rated the avalanche danger as moderate at the lower elevations on Togwotee Pass and considerable at higher elevations. Western Wyoming has seen up to four feet of new snowfall over the past week, much of which is sitting on lingering persistent weak layers that formed over prolonged dry spells earlier this season. Thursday’s forecast warned, “Above 8,000 feet, backcountry travelers could encounter dangerous avalanche conditions today, and when traveling in avalanche-prone terrain are likely to trigger large to very large avalanches.” The slope where McKelvey and his group had built their jump was at 9,439 feet and landed on the northeast flank of a steep ravine, which had a 40-45-degree slope angle.

This is Wyoming’s third avalanche fatality of the season, and the second fatality this week. A 56-year-old man from Michigan was killed while snowmobiling south of Jackson Hole in the Greys River Range on Wednesday, February 17.

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  1. IAN MORCOTT says:

    Avoidable. Sadly.

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