Snowboarder Dies in Mt. Baker Avalanche

BELLINGHAM, Wash. (AP) — Mickey Parker couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate his 44th birthday than to go snowboarding with his 19-year-old son.

And where better than on 10,778-foot Mount Baker, just south of the Canadian border, where daredevils are allowed to venture into the fresh snow and rugged terrain outside the protected areas?

Past the warning signs, though, you’re on your own.

That’s where Justin M. Parker, 19, and his father were Sunday when a wall of snow broke loose and roared down Rumble Gulch. The father was 150 feet behind the son.

“It just buried him alive,” Parker said. “I realized it was my boy underneath there. I knew it was all over. I knew there was nothing I could do.”

His son’s body was recovered moments later, but Justin could not be revived.

“The whole hillside swallowed up my boy. I knew he was in God’s hands. I accepted that he died right then and there,” Parker said Monday.

An autopsy showed the younger Parker suffocated.

The search for a second man missing in the avalanche, Sean Riches, 25, of London, Ontario, has been suspended since late Sunday because of the danger of further slides.

Ski area spokeswoman Gwyn Howat said Monday the snow was moving “close to 200 miles per hour” and covering an area about a mile long and 100 feet wide with several feet of snow in a few seconds.

Howat said the search would resume when the slopes are stable, possibly not until spring. More than 57 feet of snow have fallen this season, and more snow is expected in the next few days, she said.

Signs at the roped-off boundary warn that anyone venturing outside it faces a $500 minimum fine if rescue efforts are undertaken.

Parker said he and his son had talked about trying to snowboard ahead of an avalanche if they ever got caught in one. He said that was what the young man tried to do.

“It looked safe enough. Everybody had gone through it,” he said.

Parker said he and his son had been snowboarding for a year, one of the ways in which they had been spending more time together. Three months ago the son began working for his father, building frames for houses.

“He wanted to become more responsible,” Parker said.