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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 

For the week of January 7 - 13, 2004


Soldier Mountain
avalanche kills
Seattle couple

Express Staff Writer

A New Year’s Day blizzard catapulted an avalanche into a cabin at the base of Soldier Mountain that took the lives of a Seattle couple early Friday morning. Five other family members escaped alive from the mangled cabin north of Fairfield.

A Seattle couple was killed Friday, Jan. 2, after a 200-foot avalanche slammed their cabin abutting Soldier Mountain near Fairfield. Amy Ballard photo

Soldier Mountain Search and Rescue members recovered the bodies of the dean of the University of Washington’s graduate school and her husband Friday after family members were unable to dig out the couple.

Marsha Landolt, 55, and Robert A. Busch, 58, were killed in the avalanche, which occurred between 1 and 2 a.m. Friday, the Camas County Sheriff’s Office reported.

"I didn’t realize that they were such prominent people in the Seattle area," said Larry Davenport, manager of the Soldier Mountain Ski Area, who together with his son Kyle assisted with the rescue and recovery using a snow cat used for backcountry skiing. "I went back that afternoon and saw the size of the debris field. I didn’t realize how badly the house had gotten torn up in the dark. Parts of the house got moved 50 yards down to the creek."

Davenport said the French doors on the west side bedroom, where the couple was buried, were pushed aside by the slide and snow packed the room like concrete.

The death of Landolt and Busch brought national media attention to the small city over the weekend.

"The media descended on us," Davenport said. "I got a call (Friday) evening for a live interview."

A crushing 15 feet of snow hammered into the cabin at about 1:30 a.m., Friday, Jan.2   Windows and doors were smashed and parts of the cabin were pushed another 50 feet by the slide. Also trapped were five other family members and their two dogs, all of whom survived with the help of search and rescue volunteers. Sawtooth National Forest Avalanche Center photo

Setting up cameras at 2:30 a.m. Cambell Brown, co-anchor of NBC’s The Today Show, interviewed Davenport for the Saturday program. On Sunday, Good Morning America interviewed Sheriff Sanders, and on Monday, a press conference was held in Boise for the survivors. They include Nicholas Kocan, Landolt’s son; Jenna Rovig, Busch’s daughter; Rovig’s husband, Kelby, and their children Tucker, 5, and Emma, 1.

Kocan and Kelby Rovig dug through the packed snow for an hour and a half--managing to rescue Kocan’s black lab, Shadow--but ultimately had to go for help to recover Landolt and Busch.

"The call came in at 3 a.m. It didn’t take very long for everybody to get going," said Shelly Marolf, who works part time as a dispatcher for the Camas County Sheriff’s office, and is a search and rescue volunteer. "It took three hours to respond and recover the bodies. We cleared from the house at 6:10 a.m."


Slide wind loaded

The avalanche occurred when snow along the ridge above the cabin released, said Janet Kellam, director of the Sawtooth National Forest Avalanche Center after finishing an avalanche report on the event with Doug Abromeit, director of the Forest Service National Avalanche Center. "Nationally avalanche centers coordinate and keep track of patterns and help educate the public about the hazards ... It was an unusual event to slide as big as it did into that house, but (the type of slide) was not unprecedented."

Kellam said the start zone above the 39-degree slope was wind loaded and that the weather with light snow present before the last storm arrived created a perfect recipe for avalanches. "It was steep enough to allow the snow to build up and slide under stress," she said. "It is the most common angle for a slab avalanche to occur."

The steepest pitch on Inhibition, one of the steepest runs at the Sun Valley ski resort is 38 degrees, she said.


Cabin 26 years old

"It’s been a busy few days I can tell you that," Davenport said. "The house had been there 26 years. It’s just tragic what happened."

"There were about 20 to 25 people helping with the rescue," Marolf said.

The debris field at the base of the avalanche was nearly 200 yards wide, and between 10 and 15 feet deep.

During the recovery effort, search and rescue evacuated a second house because of the avalanche hazard. A minor slide did come down near that building.

Several hours after the recovery, emergency workers heard barking coming from beneath the snow inside the cabin’s living room, Davenport said.

Another family dog, Odie, had apparently been pushed through a glass screen into the fireplace, where he was able to get air through the chimney.

"We were able to get him out. He was scratched up and scared but otherwise OK," Keith Davenport said.

Busch’s son-in-law, Archie Wright, said the family was grieving the unexpected deaths.

He said his family in Boise had been planning to join the group at Soldier Mountain for New Year’s Eve but bad weather kept them away.

Demaray Funeral Service from Gooding had to detour through Shoshone to recover the bodies because roads were closed, Marolf said.

The ski resort was also closed for the day, Davenport said, partly because of the risk of additional avalanches and partly because resort workers needed time to groom the trails.

Landolt had been dean and a vice provost of the Seattle university since 1996, university spokesman Bob Roseth said.

She was previously director of the university’s School of Fisheries and wrote more than 70 scientific papers on fish pathology.

University of Washington President Lee Huntsman said the deaths were "a terrible loss. Our hearts go out to Marsha’s and Bob’s families. Marsha spent her whole career here, was a brilliant scientist, and a forceful and effective advocate for graduate education both here at the University and at the national level. The University is in mourning on this very sad day."


28 snowmobilers stranded

Less than an hour after completing the cabin rescue, search and rescue volunteers headed out on a second call Friday to help 28 snowmobilers stuck about 12 miles north of Fairfield over Couch Summit past Trappers Inn, Marolf said.

The travelers between the ages of 5 and 70 had gotten stuck after spending New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day in backcountry cabins. Search and rescue drove a snowcat out to groom a path for the stranded travelers after getting a call from a cabin owner who had a satellite phone.

"They went out to celebrate New Years and ended up getting stuck out there longer than they expected," Marolf said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.



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