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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of March 12 - 18, 2003


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 snowmobiler

Express Staff Writer

An East Fork man walked away unscathed after being buried by an avalanche while snowmobiling in the Smoky Mountains Sunday afternoon.

"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 of Ketchum.

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 air above.

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.


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