A 21-year-old man from Washington state was killed Saturday afternoon when he was caught in an avalanche while snowmobiling outside of Cooke City.
According to a video released by the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center, the avalanche was triggered by the snowmobiler and caused by weak snow. The man's name has not been released, but he was snowmobiling with his 17-year-old brother when it happened.
“He was about a couple hundred feet from the top when the avalanche broke, and he was swept all the way almost to the toe of the debris here where he was buried five feet deep,” said a member of the Avalanche Center in the video.
The tragedy was witnessed firsthand by many skiers and snowmobilers. In fact, authorities say that nearby riders tried to dig out the man in the snow but struggled to locate him because he didn't have an avalanche beacon, which would've sent a signal to the group trying to rescue him.
“Nearby group of riders rode up on the debris and saw his sled sticking out, so they started a beacon search, but didn’t have a signal,” said the Avalanche Center representative.
And there were some people from Billings in the area, who got a firsthand look at what happened.
“We finished up our ski day and got back to town," Billings resident Sam Hensler said. "Everyone was talking about it and then you know we kind of saw the aftermath."
Hensler was with a group of eight friends enjoying some back country skiing in the area when the avalanche struck. While they weren't there when it happened, one of Hensler's friends Alden Shallcross was shocked at how the small town reacted.
"It was surprising to me in some ways in how the town just moved forward,” Shallcross said.
Their group continued to ski in the days that followed but kept a close eye on the snow reports — something Hensler said they do regularly.
“Whenever we go out, we’re assessing the conditions, the aspects, and the snow conditions," Hensler said. "And most importantly what risks we need to watch out for."
For riders like Hensler and Shallcross, it's a nightmare that will serve as a reminder to be extra cautious.
“If anything, it just hammers in the point that even though the conditions were pretty good, and about as safe as they could get, the risk always exists,” Hensler said.
“Air on the side of caution," Shallcross said. "The risks are there and they’re serious. This happens every year so nothing should be taken lightly."