Avalanche Death In Idaho Highlights Unstable Conditions In Backcountry

By Jessica Robinson

The avalanche center in Idaho's Sun Valley area is urging people to consider cancelling their plans in the backcountry. A snowmobiler died on Sunday when he was buried in an avalanche in the Sawtooth Mountains. George Gilbert Martin, Jr., of Bellevue, Idaho, was 64 years old. Lesley Dianne Martin managed to survive for 90 minutes under the snow before being rescued and transported to the hospital.

The Blaine County Sheriff's Department says the avalanche debris was up to 8 feet deep. Two other snowmobilers in the group, from Sutherlin, Ore., were able to extricate themselves from the snow.

Simon Trautman is the director of the Sawtooth Avalanche Center in Ketchum. He says all the recent snow storms have created a thick slab of snow – but it's not stable.

Simon Trautman: “Below that storm slab there's very weak old snow that is capable – you can think of it like a house of cards. So it'll hold something, but if you somehow move some way or another the whole house will collapse.”

Last week, two backcountry skiers died in an avalanche in Oregon's Wallowa Mountains. Nine people have died in avalanches across the West since Feb. 8.

The Northwest Avalanche Center in Seattle says the Cascade Mountains from Mount Hood to the Canadian border are at high risk for avalanches.

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