UW Professor Killed In Teton Backcountry Avalanche While Skiing

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A University of Wyoming professor was killed last week when he and another skier triggered an avalanche in the Teton backcountry.

Jay Norton, 61, a member of the faculty of UW’s Department of Ecosystem Science and Management, was skiing in the Game Creek drainage on the western slope of the Tetons near Victor, Idaho.

According to officials from the Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center, five people, including Norton, were skiing in an area referred to as the “Sugar Bowl.”

According to the Colorado Avalanche Center accident report, Norton and an older woman were buried in an avalanche. The rest of the group located and uncovered both of them, and while the woman was conscious and breathing, Norton was unconscious.

The slope where the two were buried had avalanched in early January during a widespread avalanche cycle and then became reloaded with new snow, which turned into a slab, according to the Bridger-Teton Center.

“We experienced three collapses on the way to the site and adjacent to the avalanche,” center officials said Friday. “These weak layers around crusts are more likely to be found on northerly aspects at mid-elevations and areas with a shallow snowpack, where you may be looking for the best snow for skiing.”

The group initiated CPR, but was unable to save Norton. Norton is the second person to die in an avalanche-related incident in Wyoming this season, according to the Colorado center.

Representatives from the Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center did not respond to Cowboy State Daily’s request for comment on Monday.

Teton County Search and Rescue volunteers responded to the accident site via helicopter and evacuated the injured skier.

The UW community mourned Norton’s death on Monday. Norton’s wife, Urszula Norton, is an associate professor in UW’s Department of Plant Sciences.

“We have lost a talented and beloved member of our community,” UW President Ed Seidel said. “Our hearts go out to his friends and family as we all grieve his loss.”

Norton joined UW as an assistant professor in 2006, was promoted to associate professor in 2012, and became a full professor in 2018.

He operated a research lab investigating soil and ecosystem health, organic agriculture and a range of issues that support Wyoming agriculture and ecosystem sustainability, including soil nutrition and carbon cycling.

“Dr. Norton was a consummate scholar who was committed to the improvement of Wyoming agriculture and support of its natural resources. He was able to engage with students at both a personal and professional level at a rare level, and he brought a high level of energy and goodwill to every activity,” Professor Scott Miller, head of the UW Department of Ecosystem Science and Management said.

“To know Jay was to love him, and he will be deeply missed. We send our deepest condolences to his wife, Urszula, and son, Cazi,” he said.

Norton came to UW after more than 20 years as a soil scientist, researcher and teacher in Montana, Iowa, Utah and California. He earned a Ph.D. in resource conservation and soil science from the University of Montana, where he also received his bachelor’s degree in geology.

His master’s degree in agronomy and soil science was from Iowa State University.

“Jay was a wonderful friend and terrific colleague,” Miller said. “He had an infectious positive spirit that he carried everywhere. He is remembered for his excellence in scholarly activities as well as the warmth, friendship and good humor he brought to his community.”

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