The Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center released additional details regarding the cause of an avalanche near Star Valley Ranch that claimed the life of a skier from Alpine. The slide occurred shortly before noon in the Prater Canyon area on January 14. Star Valley Search & Rescue was the first to respond and later requested helicopter assistance from Teton County Search & Rescue.
The skier was found unresponsive when reached by emergency responders. The next day the Lincoln County Coroner’s office identified the skier as David Rice, 41, of Alpine. Rice had been a previous resident of Jackson and was an experienced backcountry skier.
According to the final report from the Bridger-Teton Avalanche center, the slide occurred on a mid-elevation, northwest-facing, sparsely treed slope above an indistinct gully on the Northwest Face of Little Poudre Mountain. “The weak snow layer formed during a prolonged dry period in December that was buried by approximately 30’’ of snow falling during a series of storms that began on January 4th,” details the report. “The avalanche broke approximately 50’ wide and 1-3’ deep and entrained more snow along the flanks of a shallow gully. The avalanche fell approximately 600 vertical feet. The slide path is one of several sparsely wooded avalanche paths on the northwest face of Little Poudre Mountain that run the full 1,200’ length of the face. This avalanche was one of the dozens reported in the region during a particularly active avalanche cycle.”
Rice, who was with another experienced skier, was carried by the avalanche into the gully through brush and trees. He was buried under approximately two feet of snow. The second skier was able to locate Rice with avalanche beacon equipment and excavate him in less than 15 minutes. CPR was performed for 1 ½ hours. Rice was found with a severe leg injury. While an official cause of death has not been released, it was presumed in initial reports that due to the leg injury and his position in the debris, he was likely unconscious when the avalanche came to rest.
The report from the avalanche center states that from January 4th to the 14th, 57 avalanches D2 in size or greater were reported in the Greys and Tetons forecast zones. As visibility improved on the 14th and 15th, another 30 avalanche observations were submitted. At the time of the incident avalanche danger was listed as high and an avalanche warning had been issued by the Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center.
“All of the fatal avalanches we investigate are tragic events,” stated the report. “We do our best to describe each accident to help the people involved, and the community as a whole to better understand them.”
The full report on the incident, as well as current avalanche conditions for the Greys River, Tetons and Togwotee Pass are always available at BridgerTetonAvalancheCenter.org.