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Double trouble

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Ryan Roberts got out of one tight spot last week, but he may still be in another.

On March 1, the Creston resident was caught in an avalanche while snowmobiling in the Jewel Basin and buried under 4 feet of snow for eight hours. Before passing out, Roberts, lying completely immobile under the snow, says he expected to die. And as the hours passed, rescuers believed he already had since few have escaped hypothermia and asphyxiation while trapped under the snow for that long.

Roberts did survive—possibly due to a heating pad he wore on his back—but now he and the two men he was snowmobiling with face maximum penalties of $5,000 fines, six months in jail and confiscation of their snowmobiles because they rode in the Jewel Basin, a part of the Flathead National Forest closed to motorized vehicle use. The Forest Service says it will issue the citations.

Roberts was unapologetic about the incident, telling the Indy it’s difficult to tell the difference between the restricted areas and nearby legal terrain.

“It’s not like there’s a sign or a fence,” he says. “I’m just riding my snowmobile across the tops of mountains.”

Area environmental groups have started a campaign to persuade the Forest Service to deal harshly with Roberts and his friends.

Keith Hammer, a board member of Missoula-based Wildlands CPR and chairman of the Swan View Coalition, has helped spearhead the campaign.

“First of all, I’m glad [Roberts is] alive,” says Hammer. “But if they let these guys get off with just a slap on the wrist, then the message will be, ‘Snowmobilers can go wherever they want, whenever they want, and we don’t care.’”

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