Large avalanche buries snowmobiler
East Fork man walks away from slide
"It felt like a truck hit me from
behind. I wasn’t really afraid. I just felt like I needed to swim for all I
could swim. I was buried the whole time."
— DAVID ROSSER, East Fork
By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer
An East Fork man walked away unscathed
after being buried by an avalanche while snowmobiling in the Smoky Mountains
"God sent an angel and dragged my butt
out," said East Fork resident David Rosser, a husband and father of six. "I want
to give thanks to God. I was actually being tentative and safe that day. It’s
pretty dangerous out there—more than I’ve ever seen it."
As Mother Nature pelted the Smoky
Mountains with a steady snowfall around 2 p.m., Rosser, 46, rode with a group of
about nine snowmobilers. The group was "highmarking" on an aproximately
200-yard-wide slope in a remote area between Norton and Baker creeks, northwest
In "highmarking," snowmobilers ride as
high up a slope as possible before sweeping around in an arc before bogging down
in steep, soft snow. Rosser said between 30 and 40 tracks lined the slope before
he took his turn.
Rosser had just put the highest mark on
the steep slope and was gliding back down when he glimpsed a 6- to 8-foot wall
of snow about to overtake him.
"It broke way up above us. It might have
broke 75 yards above us," Rosser said. "I pinned the gas (to try to outrun the
slide). It felt like a truck hit me from behind. I wasn’t really afraid. I just
felt like I needed to swim for all I could swim. I was buried the whole time."
When the slide settled, Rosser was only
about a foot beneath the surface of a 20-foot-deep pile of snow. He was able to
see a faint light through his goggles and wiggled his hands through to the fresh
Sunday’s trials in the Baker Creek valley
punctuated this winter’s generally unpredictable avalanche danger. It was the
second close call for Rosser, who said he used his snowmobile to outrun a
separate avalanche earlier this winter.
Last week’s dustings in the Wood River
Valley were part of a system that dumped a foot or more of snow at higher
elevations north of Ketchum. Since the new snow, avalanche danger was estimated
to be "considerable," and even spiked to "high" on Saturday.
Considerable danger means natural
avalanches are possible, and human-triggered avalanches are probable. High
danger means natural and human triggered avalanches are likely.
"Today is going to be warmer than
yesterday, causing the snowpack to become highly sensitive as the day
progresses," Sawtooth National Forest Avalanche Center forecaster Greg Johnson
wrote in Tuesday’s avalanche advisory. "There are two weak layers in the
snowpack that have not sufficiently strengthened and are a concern. Both of
these layers are facet-crust interfaces and they have proven to be the weak link
for natural avalanches and human triggered avalanches in steep terrain."
Though they were not crucial to Rosser’s
survival, all members of the snowmobile group possessed avalanche beacons,
shovels and probes, Rosser said.
"They thought they were going to have to
use them, but we’re glad they didn’t," Rosser said.