Montana Avalanche Claims Life

It is with heavy hearts we bring you the news of the first avalanche fatality of the 2017-2018 winter season. Inge Perkins was killed in an avalanche in Montana. Her partner, Hayden Kennedy, a renowned climber, has also deceased.

The event happened on the Imp Peak in the southern Madison Range in Montana on Saturday, 10/7.

Reports claim the avalanche was triggered upon their approach.

Ed Note: We will update this story as more information comes in.

Photo of the slide courtesy of: Friends of Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center

UPDATE 10/10: Read on for the incident report from: 

Friends of the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center

Avalanche Incident Summary:

With unbelievably heavy hearts, we are sad to report there was an avalanche fatality on Saturday, October 7th. The incident occurred on Imp Peak in the southern Madison Range, approximately 20 miles south of Big Sky. Two skiers were caught, one was fully buried and killed.

On Saturday, two skiers hiked 6 miles from the Upper Taylor Fork trailhead to the north couloir of Imp Peak. Near the bottom of the couloir around 10,000', they triggered an avalanche while ascending on skis with skins. The avalanche was 1-2' deep at the crown, approximately 150' wide, and 300' long. The slope where the avalanche released was 38-45° steep with a north-northeast aspect .

(This area received one foot of snow since October 1st, which was on top of 3-4 feet of dense snow that fell since September 15th. The avalanche was a hard slab of wind-drifted snow that collapsed on a layer of soft old snow underneath, and slid on the old snow from late September.

Both skiers were caught, skier 1 was partially buried and skier 2 was fully buried. Skier 1 searched for skier 2, was unable to locate her, and then hiked himself out from the area. On Monday, Gallatin County Search and Rescue recovered the body of skier 2. They located her with avalanche probes, buried 3' deep. Alex and Doug went in for the recovery and accident investigation, and will have a full accident report available later this week. Our deepest condolences go out to the family and friends of the skiers involved.

Snowpack and Avalanche Discussion: 

Since Saturday night 6-10" fell in the northern mountains and 3-6" fell in the south. Ridgetop winds are westerly at 15-20 mph in the Bridger Range and are strong enough to drift snow and create wind slabs. Areas with the deepest snow, least amount of rocks, and most inviting skiing will be wind-loaded areas: gullies and higher elevation slopes. This presents a quandary because wind-loaded slopes are where someone could trigger an avalanche.

Avalanches are more easily triggering during a storm and soon after the snowfall and or wind-loading stops…today and tomorrow. Even small avalanches injure and kill. The sacred rules of backcountry travel are not loosened in October:

  • Carry rescue gear (beacon shovel and probe) along with other personal safety you normally carry mid-winter (i.e. helmet or airbag).
  • Only expose one person at a time in avalanche terrain, both heading up and sliding down.
  • Cracking and collapsing of the snow, most likely in wind drifts, are signs that slopes are unstable and could avalanche.

With snow on the ground, now is a good time to sharpen our minds and check our gear. Replace batteries in your beacon, recharge your airbag, make sure probe poles aren't sticky, and shovel parts fit together smoothly. There are many avalanche education opportunities this fall, such as an avalanche workshop next Wednesday evening (October 11) at MSU.

Our thoughts go out to the victims’ family during this time. This is a sobering reminder to exercise extreme caution in the backcountry no matter what time of year it is.

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Photo: Friends of the Gallatin National Forest