Editor's note: This story has been updated to identify the victim, as confirmed by the Lincoln County Coroner's Office.
A 41-year-old Alpine man was killed Sunday morning after he was buried in a massive avalanche in Prater Canyon in the Salt River Range, midway between Alpine and Afton, Wyoming.
The victim in Sunday morning’s avalanche in Prater Canyon has been identified by the Lincoln County Coroner’s Office as David Rice of Alpine. Rice moved to Alpine recently after spending years in Jackson. He opened a music store there, which he sold recently before relocating.
According to preliminary reports compiled by Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center’s Frank Carus, two skiers set out to ascend a popular ski track to a northwest-facing ridge known locally as Little Poudre in Prater Canyon outside Star Valley Ranch. The pair first accessed the area after approaching using snowmobiles.
According to Carus, both were experienced skiers who had skied the ridge a few days prior.
Both skiers reportedly discussed staying on the sub-ridge feature that had been hammered by high winds for the past two days. The two eventually settled on a route and skied several hundred vertical feet from the ridge without incident.
After the first run, the skiers discussed a specific route strategy for the next pitch, but one skier diverted from the intended route, triggering a 3-foot-thick soft slab of snow 50 feet wide to come down the mountain.
Snow and debris funneled into an adjacent gully and carried the victim through brush and trees, burying him under about 2 feet of snow.
The other skier began immediately performing a beacon search and located his partner quickly. He estimated it was less than 15 minutes before he was completely dug out.
By then, however, the victim had no pulse, and there were signs of a serious leg injury.
The rescuer performed CPR and continued for about an hour and a half with no success. First responders said the victim was probably knocked unconscious during the event and likely died of trauma.
Star Valley Search & Rescue received the call at 10:30 a.m. The team responded first by ground, but after assessing the situation called for air assistance from Teton County Search and Rescue (TCSAR) due to dangerous avalanche conditions and remaining hangfire above the scene.
The TCSAR helicopter pilot first extricated the surviving skier, then returned for the victim. While the rescue mission took place, another avalanche was noted by authorities.
Conditions Ripe For Disaster
Conditions for avalanche at the time of the slide were rated as “High” above 7,500 feet. The avalanche happened at about 8,700 feet.
“There are no two ways about it. Avalanche conditions are very dangerous right now,” stated the Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center. “A historically weak snowpack has been overloaded by five feet of new snow (a huge amount of weight).”
The forecast center today posted what amounts to a red flag avalanche warning, calling for no travel whatsoever in known avalanche backcountry terrain.
“Incredibly dangerous avalanche conditions exist today. Triggering an avalanche large enough to bury, injure or kill a person is very likely at all elevations,” the report says.
The Center’s Noah McCorkel added, “Today is not the day to push your luck. Ride in flat meadows if you can get there safely, but avoid avalanche terrain at all costs. Now is the time to let the snowpack adjust and make very conservative terrain choices.”