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Baker Creek Avalanche Traps Snowmobiler
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Scott Martin tests an avalanche beacon at Baker Creek. Courtesy: Sawtooth Avalanche Center.
 
Thursday, January 16, 2020
 

BY KAREN BOSSICK

Multiple agencies responded to a report of a snowmobiler buried by an avalanche in the Baker Creek area north of Ketchum Wednesday afternoon. Although he was found, attempts to revive the snowmobiler--50-year-old Kirk Douglas Rongen of Jerome--were unsuccessful.

Two snowmobilers were riding in the area when the avalanche was said to have occurred about 2 p.m. at 9,000 feet in elevation a half mile northeast of Baker Lake. Both were caught in the avalanche, which was on a south-southwest aspect. One was able to escape and was able to find his partner, removing the snow from around his face. The name of the dead snowmobiler has not been released.

All of the Sawtooth Avalanche Center forecasters responded, along with first responders from the Ketchum Fire Department, Sun Valley Fire Department, Wood River Fire & Rescue and Blaine County Sheriff’s department. Air St. Luke’s and Sun Valley Heli Ski responded, as well.

Forecasters had called the avalanche day “considerable” on Wednesday and warned that recreationalists could trigger fresh drifts or very large, destructive avalanches that could fail two to six feet deep.

A snowmobiler was killed in an avalanche in the same area several years ago.

Three skiers were killed in an avalanche and a handful of other skiers partially buried on an expert run at Silver Mountain near Kellogg, Idaho, last week. A preliminary investigation indicated that skiers triggered the avalanche after the ski patrol had performed avalanche control measures.

Wednesday’s avalanche came on a crazy day in which skiers headed to Bogus Basin had to be turned away due to two crashes, ice and blowing snow.

Highway 20 was closed Wednesday morning after a fuel tanker, Idaho National Laboratory bus and several passenger vehicles and government vehicles were involved in two pileups near Butte City because of icy conditions.  Snow, ice and fallen trees have also wreaked havoc from southwest Oregon to northeastern Oregon.

Sawtooth Avalanche Center forecasters cancelled their “Digging Deeper” avalanche talk that was to have been held Wednesday night because of the Baker Creek avalanche. A spokesperson for Backwoods Mountain Sports said the free talk would be moved to 6:30 tonight--Thursday, Jan. 18--at Backwoods. Forecaster Scott Savage will discuss such things as whether ski tracks can mitigate the risk of avalanches and, if so, how many are needed.

There will be an “Intro to Avalanches” from 6 to 8 p.m. tonight--Thursday, Jan. 16--at the Wood River High School Performing Arts Theater at the Community Campus in Hailey. It will be followed by a field day from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Sawtooth National Recreation Area headquarters and near Galena Pass. Interested parties may sign up for the field day at the “Intro to Avalanches” presentation.

 

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