Details of fatal Tobacco Roots avalanche released

Posted at 2:44 PM, Jan 29, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-29 18:32:03-05

More details are emerging about the avalanche that claimed one life in the Tobacco Root Mountains last week.

On January 25, 2019, four skiers who were staying at Bell Lake Yurt in the Tobacco Root Mountains were caught in an avalanche at approximately 1:15 p.m.

As they were ascending a slope on skis with skins, they heard a loud, roaring “whumph” and looked up to see the treed slope break and begin to avalanche.

The skiers were near the top and reportedly within one switchback of one another. Two of the skiers were able to hold onto trees and the other two were carried through thick trees and partially buried.

The two that grabbed trees began a beacon search and quickly heard groaning and yelling from the other two skiers. They located one skier, who was unconscious, groaning and partially buried against a tree. He stopped breathing and they performed first aid/CPR, but the man died on scene.

The Madison County Sheriff’s Office identified 35-year-old Benjamin Hirsch-McShane of San Francisco, California as the man killed.

The other skier was carried and partially buried an estimated 200 feet lower and dug himself out. He sustained serious injuries.

The skiers were able to call 911 to inform authorities of the avalanche. The injured skier was airlifted to emergency care.

Officials at the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center report that the avalanche occurred at 9,000’ elevation on an east-southeast aspect with a slope angle of 36-40 degrees. It was 1-3’ deep, 400’ wide and ran 1,100’ vertical. The avalanche is classified SS-ASu-R4-D3-O.

The Sheriff’s Office was assisted in the incident by the U.S. Forest Service, Gallatin County Search and Rescue, the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center, Two Bear Air, Central Copters, and LifeFlight Air Ambulance.

The complete report (PDF) can be viewed here.

Photos from the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center:

This is the crown at its deepest.
Crown and upper part of the path of an avalanche that was triggered by a group of four skiers.
Overview of the avalanche path where a group of four skiers was caught