Two of three Montana men back-country snowmobiling in the Dinah Lake area Wednesday northwest of Seeley Lake were buried under several feet of heavy, wet snow. Their surviving friend was able to dig himself out of the avalanche and call for help.
Missoula County Sheriff’s Captain Bill Burt describes it as a ‘horrific’ accident.
‘They didn’t do anything wrong. They were doing all the right things, but bad things still happened as a result of getting caught in this slide."
Authorities identified the two snowmobilers killed Wednesday as 24-year-old-Jade Green and 26-year-old Lowell Grosvold. Both men were from Anaconda. Burt describes all three as expert-level snowmobilers.
“The skillset that it takes to be back where they were riding and doing what they were doing takes years and years to develop. They weren’t in an area they should not have been in. They weren’t doing something they should not have been doing. They were simply out enjoying New Year’s day.”
One victim was wearing an avalanche transceiver and found within minutes under four feet of snow. Search and rescue crews and cadaver dogs braved blizzard conditions to search for the other avalanche victim who was not wearing a transceiver. He was found several hours later under about nine feet of snow.
Local avalanche experts issued a warning Wednesday morning after a foot of wet, heavy snow fell on top of a weak snowpack Tuesday night. Sheriff’s Captain Burt says he knows the Dinah Lake area well and admits this incident has personally rattled him.
“Backcountry snowmobiling is my passion. It’s the thing I love to do" Burt said.
"This is an area I would not have expected a slide. It tells me that avalanches are absolutely unpredictable. Not a good way to start the new year.”
The West Central Montana Avalanche Center’s warning continued Thursday. The center’s website summed up the danger this way: ‘Imagine trying to park a Mack Truck on top of a box of champagne glasses. The new storm snow being the Mack Truck, and the old snow being the box of champagne glasses. A recipe for disaster.’
According to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, the New Year's Day avalanche was the nation's first multi-death avalanche accident this season.