Two killed in avalanche

By Observer staff February 11, 2014 04:34 pm

Two cross-country skiers were killed about noon today in an avalanche near Little Eagle Meadows, in the southern Wallowa Mountains near Cornucopia, Mark Bennett, Baker County Commissioner, confirmed this afternoon.

The area is about 10 miles northwest of Halfway. 

Baker County Sheriff Mitch Southwick said a LifeFlight helicopter has been dispatched to rescue survivors, but the helicopter can't get any closer than about a half-mile away from the scene.

Members of the Panhandle Snowmobile Club are en route to the scene as well, Southwick said. 

A total of eight people were skiing together when the avalanche hit. In addition to the two who were killed, two were seriously injured and four were not hurt.

The two people injured apparently suffered broken bones, Southwick said.

He said the skiers apparently were clients of a Joseph company, Wallowa Alpine Huts, that conducts wilderness ski tours. Southwick said one survivor apparently used a cell phone to report the avalanche.

The skiers, who were from the Seattle area, were on a guided multi-day trip, according to Connelly Brown, the owner of Wallowa Alpine Huts.

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

Brown said an unconfirmed report is that a woman in her 50s suffered two broken legs, and a man in his 30s had one broken leg.

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

The Oregon National Guard is also prepared to dispatch a helicopter, said Maj. Stephen Bomar, director of public affairs for the Oregon Military Department.

"We are in conversations on what assets are the most appropriate," Bomar said. "More than likely it will be a Blackhawk (helicopter)."

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.