In last week's issue of the Independent, we expressed our concerns for the safety of our fellow snowsports enthusiasts following a string of on-area ski fatalities. Each story came as a cautionary tale for the potential dangers we face both inside and outside the ski area boundaries. But the season had more tragedy in store for us this past weekend, with two deaths on the slopes at Whitefish Mountain Resort.
The Flathead Beacon reports that a 29-year-old probation and parole officer from Kalispell was found buried in a tree well Saturday evening after friends reported him missing in an off-piste portion of the mountain off the T-Bar 2 lift. Emergency responders attempted to resuscitate the snowboarder, but he was later pronounced dead at the Kalispell Regional Medical Center. Also at Whitefish on Saturday, a 68-year-old man reportedly suffered a heart attack in the middle of a ski run and was pronounced dead at Whitefish's North Valley Hospital.
In response to the snowboarder's tree well-related death, and that of a 16-year-old German exchange student the previous weekend, Whitefish Mountain Resort today issued a press release outlining the dangers of tree wells to winter recreators. According to a ski-industry sponsored website quoted in the release, "90% of volunteers placed into tree wells in two experiments could not rescue themselves."
The Flathead Valley experienced three snow-related fatalities Saturday. The third involved a 53-year-old snowmobiler killed in an avalanche above Hungry Horse Reservoir. More on that incident at the Beacon.