Grand Targhee, Wyoming
1 ski tourer caught, buried, and killed

From: The Snowy Torrents
WEATHER CONDITIONS A minor storm reached the Teton Rage on the afternoon of March 18. By the morning of the 19th, 8 inches of new snow had fallen at Grand Targhee Ski Area on the west side of the range. Southwest winds of 20-40 mph blew all day as snowfall tapered off. By the following morning, March 20, only 1 inch of new snow had accumulated. Winds had subsided to 8-12 mph. The temperature ranged from a low of -2F to a high of 18F, considerably colder than the previous day.

Wayne Farrell, 20, and Elin Abramson, 17, left the Targhee Lodge around noon on March 20 for a ski tour up the ski mountain. They were accompanied by Farrell's 6-month-old Labrador dog. As the two headed up the mountain on cross-country skis, the weather worsened: fog rolled in, creating a whiteout, and the wind began blowing snow along the ridge crest. At about 1230, when they were beneath the Blackfoot chairlift on the north side of the ski area, the two skiers parted. Abramson, turned around; Farrell and his dog continued. That was the last time Farrel was seen alive. He was an expert ski tourer, but he was unfamiliar with the terrain into which he headed.

Farrell skied past the ski area boundary signs into dangerous avalanche terrain in South Leigh Canyon. He found himself on a steep slope made even steeper by a cliff band cutting across it. Apparently while traversing or climbing the slope, he triggered a slab avalanche 150 feet wide and 2 feet deep. It carried him over the cliff and crashed onto the lover slope. When the avalanche stopped, Farrell was totally buried.

Elin Abramson waited in the ski area parking lot until dark, then reported Farrell missing to the Grand Targhee ski patrol and Teton County Sheriff's Office. Two ski patrollers went to the ski area boundary. But blowing snow obscured the missing man's tracks. A ski patrol search team went into Ricks Basin, adjacent to the ski area and separated by a ridge from South Leigh Canyon. They found nothing, as did other searchers inside and outside the ski area.

The search resumed at first light on March 21. At 0800, searchers on snowmobiles reported several avalanches on the south side of South Leigh Canyon. At noon, a patrol plane took off from the Driggs, Idaho airport. At 1245, the air search reported ski tracks entering an avalanche 1 mile west of the ski area boundary in South Leigh Canyon. A small ground search team skied to the area, throwing a few hand charges on the route. They searched the slide path above the cliffs but could not descend below the cliffs. The searchers made plans for a large probe party to enter via South Leigh Creek the next morning.

At midmorning on March 22, 30 probers began working the runout area. At noon, a searcher found one cross-country ski hung up in a bush on the cliff face. The probe line concentrated on that side of the avalanche. At 1524, the end prober on the line struck Farrell's body beneath 2-1/2 feet of snow. He was uncovered face down and head downhill. He had been buried approximately 51 hours. The cause of death was not reported. Farrel's dog was never found.

The avalanche was an SS-AS-3. The fracture varied from 18 to 30 inches in depth and extended some 900 feet, but only an area about 50 feet wide released. The fracture occurred at an elevation of 8,600 feet, and the avalanche dropped 1,200 vertical feet, part of this over a cliff. The path faced north and was dotted with a few small bushes.

The victim was an expert cross-country skier. His mistake was traveling alone in unfamiliar terrain and during bad weather. Near whiteout conditions probably caused him to get into dangerously steep terrain before he realized his perils

Our partners
Friends of BT Avalanche Center
Tower 3 Investments