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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow Four unhurt skiers rescued after avalanche

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Four unhurt skiers rescued after avalanche

Two cross-country skiers from the Seattle area were killed about noon Tuesday in an avalanche near Little Eagle Meadows, in the southern Wallowa Mountains near Cornucopia.

Two other skiers, also from the Seattle area, suffered broken legs in the slide.

Officials haven’t released any names pending notification of relatives.

The area is about 10 miles northwest of Halfway.

The group caught in the avalanche included six clients and two guides from Wallowa Alpine Huts of Joseph.

The company runs multi-day backcountry skiing trips in the eastern and southern Wallowas. Clients stay overnight in yurts or a cabin.

The two guides and two clients who were not hurt were brought out of the mountains on a snow cat, Baker County Undersheriff Warren Thompson said.

The snow cat couldn’t reach the two injured skiers, a woman in her 50s and a man in his 30s, because the slope was too steep, Thompson said. Two medics stayed with the two injured skiers overnight.

One Idaho National Guard helicopter and one LifeFlight helicopter were dispatched Tuesday but neither was able to reach the scene of the avalanche. 

Two National Guard helicopters, one from Idaho and one from Oregon, planned to resume the rescue effort today.

The Idaho National Guard launched a UH-72 Lakota helicopter to the scene at about 4 p.m. Idaho National Guard Public Affairs Officer Col. Tim Marsano said the Lakota is outfitted as a medical evacuation helicopter — including a hoist for ground-to-air evacation — with a crew of four. 

“We’ve been told there is no accessible landing area because of the terrain,” Marsano said. 

Members of the Panhandle Snowmobile Club in Halfway also assisted in the rescue effort.

Southwick said one of the survivors was able to use a cell phone to call Wallowa Alpine Huts after the avalanche.

The company’s owner, Connelly Brown, then telephoned police.

Brown said it appears the skiers who died are a man in his 20s and another man in his 30s.

Brown said the clients and the guides are all “fit, proficient downhill skiers.” The guides were certified by the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education and trained by the American Mountain Guides Association, he said.

“From the description, it sounded like they were traveling and the avalanche came from above and caught them by surprise,” said Brown, adding he did not know the exact location where the avalanche hit.

Wallowa Alpine Huts offers ski tours in the southern Wallowas that include overnight accommodations in a yurt as well as the historic Schneider Cabin.

According to a Feb. 6 bulletin from the Wallowa Avalanche Center in Joseph — www.wallowaavalanchecenter.org/ — snow that had fallen in the previous week “is not bonding well to the old surface down 12-18” where the new snow fell on weak loose grains. This problem doesn’t exist everywhere and is mainly confined to more northerly aspects at mid-elevations.  There was a recent report from the southern Wallowas of a skier triggered slab avalanche on this layer.  No one was caught in this small slide, but there are places in the terrain where triggering a slide is possible.”

That bulletin was issued before heavy snow fell on Friday and Saturday, Feb. 7 and 8. 

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