Avalanche Incident, Swede Creek, Whitefish Range

Location Name: 
Avalanche Incident, Swede Creek, Whitefish Range
Whitefish Range - Northern (north of Coal Creek)
Date and time of avalanche (best estimate if unknown): 
Sat, 01/23/2016 - 13:30
Location Map: 

Red Flags: 
Recent loading by new snow, wind, or rain
Terrain Trap

Observation made by: Forecaster
Avalanche Observations
Avalanche Type: 
Trigger type: 
Crown Height: 
4 ft
Avalanche Width: 
Below Treeline
6 358ft.
Bed Surface: 
Old Snow
Avalanche Length: 
Number of people caught: 
Number of partial burials: 
Number of full burials: 
More detailed information about the avalanche: 

Please see the final avalanche incident report for full details: http://www.flatheadavalanche.org/sites/default/files/20160124_swedecreekavalaccidentreport_final.pdf.

Based on the site visit and through talking with members of the party involved reveals that the avalanche was triggered by the second snowmobiler riding down the slope. The avalanche was measured to be approximately 200 feet wide and the crown depth ranged from 2 feet to nearly 5 feet deep at its deepest part. The avalanche ran approximately 200 vertical feet and 450 feet in length, and the debris accumulated in a gully at the bottom of the slope. The avalanche debris was around 4-5 feet deep. The average slope angle was approximately 35 degrees. The aspect was southeast and was a cross-loaded slope. The avalanche released on a layer of weak, faceted snow beneath the January 12th rain crust. The avalanche is classified as SS-AMu-R4-D2-O. This means that it was a soft slab avalanche (SS) unintentionally triggered by a snowmobiler (AMu). It was large, relative to the path (R4, but a small avalanche path), and large enough to bury, injure, or kill a person (D2). The avalanche released within the old snow (O) on weak, faceted snow beneath the January 12 rain crust.

Here is information from the Flathead County Sheriff's Office regarding the incident:

"On Saturday, 1-23-16 The Flathead County Sheriff’s Office received a report of a fatal avalanche that occurred near Swede Creek in the Whitefish mountain range near Olney.  Three snowmobilers were riding together when one of them triggered the avalanche.  2 of the individuals were buried, and one was able to self-extricate.  The survivors were able to locate the third individual with the help of an avalanche transceiver.  He was dug out, but was deceased.  Attempts to resuscitate him were unsuccessful, so the survivors rode out for help. The deceased is a 33 year old Kalispell area man.  His name is being held pending notification of next of kin.  Due to poor weather...and darkness his body was not recovered until today (Sunday).  He was located and recovered by helicopter this morning (Sunday)."

We offer our sincere condolences and our thoughts are with family, friends, and all of those involved. We would like to thank Ted Steiner with Dave Hamre and Associates for his field assistance, Two Bear Air Rescue, Flathead County Sheriff's Office, Flathead Country Search and Rescue, and North Valley Search and Rescue.

Snowpit or crown profile photo or graph: 
Avalanche Photos: 
Avalanche observation video: 

January 24, 2016 - Avalanche Fatality Site Visit, Swede Creek, Whitefish Range

Weather Observations
Blowing Snow: 
Cloud Cover: 
50% of the sky covered by clouds
Air temperature: 
Below Freezing
Wind Speed: 
Calm (No air motion)
Air temperature trend: 
Wind Direction: 
More detailed information about the weather: 

The information above is weather taken on the day of the site visit (1/24/2016). It is NOT the weather during the time of the avalanche.