Close call for snowmobilers highlights regional avalanche danger

CHEWELAH, Wash.– Recent changes in the weather have created dangerous conditions across higher elevations of Washington and Idaho. A group of snowmobilers had a close call this weekend that showed just how unstable snow can be.

Ryan Forsberg said he was taking his snow bike for a spin Sunday when he ran into a group who’d experienced an avalanche in northeastern Washington.

“We came up to the base of Calispell Peak and ran into some of my past students and they let us know their dad was in an avalanche on the northwest side of the mountain,” Forsberg said.

The rider involved was rescued right away, but the group was having a harder time finding his snowmobile. They weren’t carrying any probes, but Forsberg was.

It took more than an hour for them to dig the sled out, according to Forsberg. He posted cell phone video from the recovery on Facebook with a warning about conditions in the backcountry. It’s a warning regional Avalanche centers have been sharing for the last few days.

Recent changes in the weather have created prime opportunities for avalanches, according to Joey Clevenger. He’s a meteorologist for the National Weather Service (NWS) office in Spokane.

“When we keep getting these heavy snow events on top of these weak layers, the weak layers can’t hold all that snow up there and that’s kind of what kicks off these avalanches,” Clevenger said.

It was this time last year that skiers accidentally triggered an avalanche on Silver Mountain. Three people died.

Now, that same part of Idaho is seeing high avalanche danger again, along with other parts of the Idaho Panhandle.Idaho avalanche warning screenshot

In Washington, the Northeast Avalanche Center is also reporting high danger levels in the Cascades.

People are asked not to go into these areas. But, if you choose to go into the backcountry, experts say each person needs to carry a transceiver, shovel and probe.

Forsberg says the crew he ran into Sunday didn’t have most of that gear. They were lucky it was just a snowmobile that got trapped in the slide.

“Everyone’s wish is to come home at night to everybody they love, so you just gotta be safe,” Forsberg said.

Forsberg said he enrolled in an avalanche education course to learn more about the danger and how to use safety tools. The Northeast Avalanche Center offers free training HERE.

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