A North Dakota snowmobiler buried 4-feet deep by an avalanche while riding outside of Cooke City on Friday was dug up within 10 minutes and revived by riding partners who administered CPR, according to the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center.
"He survived, but used up every one of his nine lives," GNFAC's Doug Chabot wrote in his Monday morning report.
The snowmobiler, who was not named, was able to ride back to Cooke City on his own snowmobile. According to a Cooke City resident familiar with the group, the riders were all wearing avalanche beacons and are experienced snowmobilers.
"This is an incredible story of companion rescue — big props to his partners for acting quickly and saving his life," said Eric Knoff of the GNFAC.
The slide on Mount Henderson was massive. It broke 4 to 12 feet deep, was 500 feet wide and ran 300 feet downhill. The snowmobiler was buried near the edge of the avalanche.
Chabot said the slide was triggered by “deep slab instability.”
"These are hard to trigger, but if you do, pray you’re as lucky as the guy on Friday," he wrote.
Chabot explained the avalanche this way: "... picture a football field. Now picture a cafeteria tray tossed onto the field. The field represents an open avalanche slope and the tray represents a weak zone (typically thinner snowpack), the only spot on the football field where you can trigger it. You can ride and ski to your hearts content on that field as long as you don’t hit the tray, which is hidden like a buried mine. If you do, you’ll trigger the entire slope."
Chabot said many of the slopes around Cooke City have snowmobile and ski tracks on them, but that doesn't mean the snowpack is stable.
Despite the slide, high avalanche conditions that resulted in the death of a snowmobiler on New Year's Day in southwest Montana are subsiding as the snowpack grows stronger. On Monday, avalanche danger in the Cooke City area was rated moderate, but Chabot qualified that by adding: "But let’s face it, it’s a damn scary moderate!"