Detailed Accident Report
Submitted By: Angus M. Thuermer-JH News
Place: Northwest of Jackson
Summary: 1 snowmobiler caught,buried and killed
From the Montana Standard - Butte
Well-known snowmobilier feared dead
JACKSON -- An avalanche occurred northwest of Jackson Wednesday and a widely known snowmobile hillclimber was missing and feared dead.
Beaverhead County officials, including the coroner, were called to the scene and unavailable to confirm whether David Shepherd, 37, survived. Shepherd operates Shepherd's Garage in Jackson.
Unofficial sources at the scene said Shepherd was with a group of other snowmobilers, but no other injuries were reported.
The avalanche occurred in the Beaverhead Mountains of the West Big Hole near Rock Creek, north west of Jackson.
Shepherd has earned numerous titles in sanctioned snowmobile hill climbing competition over the years, according to the Web site of snow mobile manufacturer Polaris.
From the Montana Standard 1/19/01
Avalanche claims top snowmobile rider
By Perry Backus, of The Montana Standard
WISDOM -- Among the tight core of snowmobilers who travel around the West
each year to see who can reach the top of a hill
first, David Shepherd was known to be among the best.
The office of the Shepherd's Garage in Jackson is filled with plenty of
huge trophies that proved his prowess in the snowmobile
world. He'd earned presti gious sponsorships from com panies like Polaris
with demonstrations of skill and courage racing up steep
On Wednesday, deep in the backcountry of the West Big Hole, Shepherd's
luck ran out. He triggered an avalanche near the top of
the Montana Idaho divide in the Rock Creek drainage, northwest of
Jackson, and despite what officials called a `` picture-per fect
rescue effort,'' the 36year-old Shepherd died.
Shepherd was snowmobil ing with six others Wednesday afternoon. The party
had split in two -- four men were behind the lead
group that included Shepherd. The men decided to take a run up a ridge at
the end of the drainage.
`` Everyone in that group had gone up that same route dozens of times,''
said Beaverhead County sheriff's deputy Jake Heinecke.
Heinecke was the first law enforcement officer to reach the scene.
One at a time, the men made the run. Shepherd was the third -- `` they
told me he wasn't even working very hard '85 he was about
seven-eighths of the way up when the avalanche broke,'' said Heinecke.
When the snow on the slope sheered off, Shepherd's snowmobile sank to the
ice-covered ground and began sliding backward down
the hill. Heinecke said the men watched as Shepherd grabbed hold of the
machine and slid down with it.
The men kept track of Shepherd as long as possible. They then quickly
flipped their avalanche beacons to `` receive'' -- to receive
transmissions from Shepherd's beacon -- and started a search.
Heinecke said it took a minute or so to find the signal from Shepherd's
bea con. Two or three minutes later, the men had located
the snowmobile with probe poles. And 20 minutes later, `` at the most,''
the men found Shepherd buried under about six feet of
snow, he said.
`` They found the sled first and then they discovered his helmet,'' he said.
While one man tried to resuscitate Shepherd, the others worked to enlarge
the hole that would allow them to pull him from under
the snow. Another man rode up a nearby ridge and used his cellular phone
to call for help.
`` As far as I can tell, this group did absolutely nothing wrong,''
Heinecke said. `` It was a picture-perfect avalanche search and
rescue '85 if David had been buried under two or three feet of snow he
might be alive today.''
Heinecke said the men with Shepherd on Wednesday are experi enced riders
who know the area well.
`` David had the name and fame, but this whole group was made up of very
strong riders,'' Heinecke said. `` It was n't like he went
riding in there with six people who didn't know what they were getting
The men were not `` high marking'' when the avalanche broke, said
Heinecke. High marking is the practice of roaring up a hillside
and turning around just as the snowmobile starts to bog down. The contest
is to see how high one can climb before retreating.
`` In my mind, they were just going up and park on the ridge to get a
view,'' he said.
Heinecke, who worked for a time in the Big Hole and had snowmobiled with
Shepherd, believes almost all of the people who
snowmobile into the rugged backcountry of the West Big Hole take
avalanche beacons, shovels and probes.
`` Most people who ride back in there go prepared,'' he said.
But this year, the snowpack `` is the worst I've ever seen it,'' said
Early snow melted and turned to ice. What came later never developed a
base and remains loose and unbonded on top of that ice
layer, he said.
`` This is one of those winters when people should run their dogs or
maybe go cross country skiing in the flats somewhere. That's
about it,'' said Beaverhead County Undersheriff Jay Hansen. `` The snow
conditions are just going to get worse.''
Heinecke said the slab avalanche was probably 200 yards wide and per haps
the same distance long.
`` It was the biggest one that I've ever seen,'' he said.
For people like Corey Markovich of Butte, the idea that an avalanche
could catch a rider like Shepherd is almost unbelievable.
Shepherd had helped Markovich get started on the hillclimbing circuit
years ago, and he remembers Shepherd's office filled `` with
trophies nearly as tall as I am.''
`` My first reaction to the news was '85 no way. Something had to be
wrong,'' Markovich said. `` In so many cases, it's riders who
don't know enough or can't ride hard enough or some other excuse.''
`` With David, there are no excuses,'' he said. `` He was a good a rider
as I've ever known. He was an awesome rider '85 who's done
this all his life. He was a well-respected and great hillclimber.''
`` The scary thing is does this mean there are no more excuses?'' said
Markovich. `` It finally caught up with him. Does that mean
it's going to catch up with all of us?''
Services for Shepherd are 1 p.m. Sunday in the B.W. Lodge gym at
Beaverhead County High School in Dillon.