Detailed Accident Report

Back to accidents page

Date: 2002-02-10
Submitted By: Glacier Country Avalanche Center
Place: Mountians North of Whitefish Lake
State: MT
Country: USA
Fatalities: 1
Summary: 1 snowmobiler, caught, buried, and killed wearing a transceiver

Please visit:

OFFICIAL REPORT will be posted when available.

INITIAL REPORT from GCAC - 02/13/02

Upper Whitefish Lake, Whitefish Range

10 Feb 2002 - On Sunday, 2-10-02, a party of 4 snowmobilers were recreating north of Upper Whitefish Lake in the Whitefish Range. They had been working ridges and bowls most of the day prior to dropping into a bowl south of the Flathead-Lincoln county line and just on State of Montana land.

One rider was moving to the ridge on a recently wind loaded slope while a second was stopped near the base. The other two were outside the runout. Once the slide release the climbing machine was able to power on up and off the slide to the ridge. The stopped rider below was hit and pushed further down and across the bowl.

All riders were carrying transceivers, probes, and shovels. A transceiver search relatively quickly located the buried person beneath his buried snowmobile. Heavy compacted snow slowed digging progress along with the obstacle of the machine. When uncovered from approx. 5 ft of snow, CPR was administered to the victim without success.

The avalanche encompassed the south to east facing portion of the fairly large bowl. The east facing section was significantly loaded with recently wind-transported snow. The fracture line here was the deepest at about 3.5 ft. The south facing snowpack was more commonly wind scoured and shallow, the fracture depth there was 1-2 ft. It appears that the first rider was climbing transitional snow near the middle of these two different conditions.

The avalanche released upon a lower melt-freeze ice layer with a thin layer of weakly bonded snow above. Melt-freeze ice layers above the failing layer had been weakened by cold nighttime temperatures over the last couple of months. Recent snowfalls and wind events had loaded the weak layer nearly to the point of failure. A snowmachine and rider was all that was needed to trip the trigger. Unfortunately the second rider awaited below.

Stan Bones - GCAC


Please visit:


Avalanche victim identified

By Jim Mann

The Daily Inter Lake

The snowmobiler killed in a massive avalanche north of Upper Whitefish

Lake Sunday has been identified as Joseph Anthony Garrisi of Kalispell.

His body was recovered by a helicopter and Flathead County Search and

Rescue volunteers early Monday morning, said Flathead County

Undersheriff Chuck Curry, who was the coroner on the call.

Garrisi, 39, had been snowmobiling with three other people in an alpine

basin just above the east fork of Swift Creek. The group had been

climbing the bowl to a ridge top, Curry said.

One of the snowmobilers triggered the avalanche near the ridge top at

about 3:30 p.m., as Garrisi was climbing up the basin and the other two

snowmobilers were near the bottom.

"The fracture line on the slide is probably 500 yards long," Curry said. "It

was a huge slide. It was kind of the whole basin that went."

The avalanche traveled only 100 yards, however.

Curry said all of the snowmobilers were equipped with radio

transceivers, shovels and other emergency avalanche equipment.

"They were able to locate him, utilizing the transceivers," Curry said.

"They were certainly well-equipped. They did dig him out and initiate CPR

and they continued that for as long as they could."

But it took roughly 30-45 minutes to get to Garrisi, who was buried under

at least five feet of snow, Curry said.

Eventually, the three snowmobilers left Garrisi's body behind, driving out

of the area and calling the sheriff's office at around 6:45 p.m.

Curry said the terrain was too rough to attempt to recover the body on a

snowmobile, so a helicopter was used.

The Glacier Country Avalanche Center, in its advisory issued last Friday,

rated the avalanche danger as moderate on steep, open slopes. But it

said that rating would be increased to "considerable" during the

weekend, if there were heavy snow Friday night, which there was

through much of northwest Montana.

02/12/2002 Tuesday


Man killed in avalanche

A Flathead Valley man died in an avalanche Sunday at the north end of

Whitefish Lake.

His name and age were not immediately released.

A group of four people on snowmobiles were northwest of Upper

Whitefish Lake on Sunday when the avalanche occurred, said

Undersheriff Chuck Curry.

"They were in a large bowl. The slide was triggered by one of the

snowcats," Curry said.

One of the men and his machine were buried in 5 to 6 feet of snow, he

said. The group was well equipped and the man's companions were able

to dig him out, but were unable to revive him, Curry said.

Officials were unable to retrieve the man's body Sunday night. The

accident occurred in "a very high, very technical" part of the valley and

rescuers were unwilling to take risks in the dark.

Sheriff's deputies, Flathead Search and Rescue, and possibly a

helicopter, will be used in the recovery this morning, weather permitting,

Curry said.

02/11/2002 Monday