A group of snowmobilers were traversing forested, variable terrain near Slab Butte, north of McCall, on east facing slopes when the leader of the group entered onto a slope that gave way above him. The snowmobiler was able to deploy his avalanche airbag system by ABS Avalanche Rescue Devices which is believed to be what kept him on top of the avalanche debris field, making the avalanche victim’s rescue quick! The victim sustained no injuries and there were no damages to his machine although one of his air bags was deflated.
One snowmobiler in the group witnessed the slide and burial and said after it broke loose, it descended very fast down the upper half of the slope, forcing a large plume of snow into the air about 30 feet high after hitting a few trees. The witness lost sight of the victim but spotted him after the avalanche came to rest on the lower half of the slope and the snow in the air settled – all that was visible was part of one red airbag of the ABS Avalanche System Backpack and one of the victim’s hands (which he was waving frantically).
Other snowmobilers in the group reached the witness’s location after the slide stopped and after a quick briefing by the witness, they determined it was safe to send one person down to the victim to dig him out. The victim was conscious and could breath however, he could not move any part of his body buried under avalanche debris – he was only under a few inches to a foot of snow. It took the rescuing snowmobiler only a few minutes to dig the victim out. The snowmobilers found that one of the two air bags were deflated but could not determine the cause – it is speculated that a tree branch punctured one of the bags. Had this been a single airbag avalanche system, this outcome could have been devastating! The victim’s snowmobile was located about 10 feet above him and was almost completely buried – just one ski was visible as seen in the photo above.
Conditions were ripe for avalanche activity this day – a storm had just come through the area, leaving 2 to 3 feet of new heavy snow. The slide took place in a depression of land with an average slope of 29%. According to Google Earth measurement tools and a photo analysis of the avalanche – it’s estimated that the break line was about 300 feet long and about 2 to 3 feet thick. The total fall line of the avalanche was about 360 feet while it is estimated that the victim was carried about 100 feet from the point he was believed to have been swept up to the point he was found. It is not known how deep the avalanche debris field was but is estimated by one of snowmobilers to be 10+ feet thick.