2 die in Yellowstone-Teton area avalanches as region sees new snowfall

Rescuers use poles to probe an avalanche debris field while searching for two lost skiers April 19, 2011 in Garnet Canyon in Grand Teton National Park. (file photo by Jay Pistono - click to enlarge)

From Staff Reports

Two people were killed in separate avalanches over the weekend, according to information released by the Bridger-Teton National Forecast Avalanche Center.

Two backcountry skiers in separate areas were killed Sunday after being caught in small avalanches, the center reported Monday.

Grand Teton National Park rangers began a recovery mission Monday morning for the body of Nick Gillespie, 30, of Jackson, Wyo., according to information released by the park’s public affairs department.

Gillespie was caught in an avalanche while skiing on the southeast face of Survey Peak in the northern Teton Range about 5 p.m. Sunday, and died as a result of injuries suffered in the slide. Gillespie was a long-time seasonal employee of Grand Teton National Park who worked on the park’s trail crew for the past six years.

Rangers enlisted the assistance of the Teton County Search and Rescue contract helicopter and crew for the recovery mission. Teton Interagency helicopter personnel assisted with a temporary helibase established near Colter Bay, 25 miles north of Moran Junction. Four rangers were inserted into Berry Creek canyon on Monday about 11 a.m.  Recovery of Gillespie’s body and an investigation into the details of the incident are ongoing, park officials said.

The avalanche danger Sunday was listed as low in the morning rising to moderate in the afternoon at elevations between 9,000 and 10,500 feet. Moderate danger means that natural avalanches are unlikely, but human-triggered avalanches are possible. However, an avalanche advisory stated that “at upper elevations, new snow and winds overnight and expected snow today will create the potential for backcountry users to trigger soft slabs or sloughs to a foot in depth by the afternoon.”

According to information released by the Sublette County Sheriff’s Office, Elizabeth “Liza” Gray Benson, 28, of Jackson, Wyo., died following an avalanche Sunday afternoon in the Cliff Creek/Cabin Creek area near Bondurant, Wyo.

The Bridger-Teton National Forecast Avalanche Center issued an advisory bulletin for areas of Teton, Lincoln and Sublette Counties in Wyoming and for the Teton Area, Continental Divide/Togwotee Pass Area and the Southwest Trails Greys River Area.

Additional snowfall occurred late Sunday and early Monday, especially on the west slope of the Teton Range and the Continental Divide. The center reports that unstable conditions exist on steep slopes, and advises that excellent terrain evaluation skills and a conservative approach to travel in avalanche terrain are necessary.

The National Park Service also announced the temporary closure Monday morning of Sylvan Pass, between Cody and Fishing Bridge in Yellowstone National Park. Park managers routinely use a howitzer cannon to remove snow from the slopes above the pass to reduce the risk of avalanches.

The pass was reopened Monday at around 2 p.m.

Contact Yellowstone Gate at 307-213-9818 or [email protected]

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