Over-Snow Vehicles May Be To Blame For Flathead Avalanche

Jan 15, 2019

The Flathead National Forest is investigating an avalanche involving motorized snow bikes that happened on Jan. 5. The bikers may have been in an area closed to over-snow vehicles.

Keith Hammer is the chair of the Swan View Coalition in the Flathead Valley. Hammer heard about the avalanche on Spring Slide Mountain and recognized the area.

“And so that's when in my curiosity, I went, ‘Woah this is probably in the closed area.’”

According to the Flathead Avalanche Center, a group of snow bikers stopped on top of Spring Slide Mountain on January 5. A large cornice broke under one of the riders as he walked near the edge of the ridgeline. The cornice triggered several slab avalanches and the man suffered multiple serious injuries. The man was evacuated by Two Bear Air.

Hammer used a 2011 over-snow vehicle use map from the Flathead National Forest - the most recent map available on the Forest’s website. According to that map and the map from the Flathead Avalanche Center, the area where the avalanche occurred is closed to over-snow motor vehicles.

“And you look at the map and it’s the closure area where they’re not supposed to have motorized vehicles. It looks like a violation.”

Hammer reported his findings to the Forest Service. Flathead National Forest officials say the incident is currently under investigation, and that they can’t comment until the investigation is concluded.

The Missoula Snowgoers snowmobile club declined to comment for this story. MTPR reached out to multiple snowmobile organizations in Montana, none have responded.