Wyoming avalanche victims didnt trigger slide, officials conclude
AFTON, Wyo. Authorities identified the three Wyoming men who died in an avalanche near Afton on Saturday and said they believe the men did not trigger the slide.Alan Jensen, 55; Kim Steed, 51; and Scott Bennett, 42, all of Smoot, a small town in far western Wyoming, died after a massive avalanche buried them in the North Fork of the Cottonwood Creek drainage, about eight miles southeast of Afton in Bridger-Teton National Forest. All three victims asphyxiated, according to Lincoln County Coroner Mike Richens. Lincoln County Search and Rescue director Dusty Skinner said he believed the men were in a meadow below and not on the slope when the avalanche released naturally, a conclusion also reached by avalanche forecasters.My assessment is that this was one of those fast, quick-moving slides that just wipes everything out, Skinner said. The trees along the path had the snow stripped out of them they were just clean, and there were some bigger trees that were taken down with this. Those men had all rode all their lives, they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time in the wrong snow conditions.The Lincoln County Sheriffs Office received the first report of the incident from other snowmobilers in the area at 2:05 p.m. on Saturday, about 30 minutes after the incident was believed to have occurred.A party that was riding behind the three men was the first to reach the avalanche site and immediately checked for signs that the riders had made it out of the slide. After failing to find tracks on the other side of the canyon, the group spotted a partially buried snowmobile and initiated a beacon search. When they were unable to get a signal, one of the riders rode out of the area to summon search-and-rescue personnel.Skinner said the bodies of two of the three men were located under 8 to 9 feet of snow after search-and-rescue personnel picked up signals from their avalanche beacons. The other victim, who was not wearing a beacon, was located through a probe search and was buried under 2 feet of snow.Skinner said the top of the ridge where the avalanche started was at 9,700 feet and estimated the slope to be more than 35 degrees and the avalanches crown to be at least 4 feet deep. The avalanche traveled a half-mile from the top of the ridge, and the debris pile covered about 10 acres at an average depth of 10 feet. Bridger-Teton National Forest avalanche forecasters visited the site Monday to take detailed measurements. There were no witnesses to the slide.The avalanche hazard rating in the Southwest Trails/Greys River area was considerable Saturday, meaning human-triggered avalanches were probable. The avalanche forecast warned of weak layers of faceted snow that persist deep in the snowpack.Soft slabs 1 to 3 feet in depth are likely to be easily triggered on steep, wind-loaded slopes and could step down through older hard snow to deeper weak layers, the forecast read.This article is reprinted at aspentimes.com with permission from jacksonholenews.com.
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