Two human triggered avalanches reported today. These persistent slab avalanches likely failed on faceted weak snow above the late January crust. These deep avalanches are dangerous, destructive, often show no prior signs of instability, and are difficult to predict. Traveling in the backcountry these days requires very conservative decision making, cautious route-finding, avoiding steep slopes, and staying clear of runout zones of avalanche paths.
Two human triggered avalanches in Whitefish Range
1. McGinnis Creek drainage, located off of the North Fork Road north of Columbia Falls.
Six snowmobilers were traveling in the McGinnis Creek drainage on Saturday, February 22, 2014. One rider (Rider 1) had ascended the slope and was descending back down while two other riders (Rider 2 and 3) were off on the side of the slope when he triggered an avalanche. Rider 1 was knocked off of his machine, deployed his airbag (balloon), and was carried and estimated 150-200 yards downslope. He came to rest nearly fully buried in a reclining position with his airbag visible to his companions. He was able wiggle himself free and extricate himself. Rider 2 stayed on his machine on the outer edge of the avalanche, was carried downslope about 70 yards. His machine was partially buried and he was only buried a bit while sitting on his sled. Rider 3 was able to get away from his machine and stay out of the avalanche. His machine was fully buried near the toe of the debris. All were uninjured.
Preliminary information: The party involved estimates the avalanche to be about 200 yards wide with an approximate crown of 4 feet, and the debris traveled about 1000 vertical feet downslope. Flathead Avalanche Center staff are headed that way tomorrow (Sunday, 2/23) to investigate the avalanche.
2. China Basin, near Werner Peak, north of Whitefish
Seven snowmobilers/snowbikers were traveling in China Basin on Saturday, February 22, 2014. Two riders had already crossed the slope, two were in the middle of the slope near the avalanche crown, and three were in the back. A reporting member of the party believes one of the snowbikers up front triggered the slide. The avalanche knocked the last rider off of his machine and carried him down slope 30 to 40 feet. He ended up on top of the debris with no injuries. The location was reported as north of the china mans cabin on a leeward, east facing aspect The reporting member of the party involved estimates the crown was approximately 700+ feet wide, the debris was 4-5′ deep.