Wyoming Skiers Killed by Avalanches Slamming Them Into Trees

Tuesday, 29 Jan 2013 03:38 PM

By Dale Eisinger

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The first avalanche fatalities of 2013 occurred Sunday in western Wyoming in two separate but eerily similar events. Both were of skiers slammed into trees by onrushing snow.

The two dead backcountry skiers, who were familiar with the areas they were traversing, were Elizabeth “Liza” Gray Benson, 28, and Nick Gillespie, 30.

Benson died after being caught in a slide on Bondurant Mountain and hitting a tree at around 3:25 p.m. Sunday, a Sublette County Sheriff's Office representative told The Associated Press. Benson was one in a party of five skiers, including a doctor. The physician pronounced her dead at the scene.

Gillespie, a longtime Grand Teton National Park seasonal employee, was on Survey Peak at the dizzying elevation of 9,700 feet when he was caught in a slide. He also hit a tree, according to the Bridger Teton Avalanche Center. He was with a group of three other skiers and had been on the trip since Thursday.

The Bridger Teton Avalanche Center posted a statement to its website Sunday.

“Yesterday afternoon, there were two separate avalanche fatalities in the mountains of Western, Wyoming,” the report read. “Both involved backcountry skiers who were caught and suffered fatal trauma in what are believed to have been small avalanches.”

By Tuesday, the Avalanche Center updated its evaluation.

"Two separate avalanche fatalities occurred Sunday," the statement read. "A backcountry skier who accessed the Clause Peak area by skis and snowmobile from the Cliff Creek Trailhead in Hoback Canyon is believed to have triggered an 8-inch-deep soft slab on a steep slope at an elevation of about 9,200 feet and was carried into a tree and did not survive. The second fatality was a skier on Survey Peak in Grand Teton National Park who also was carried into a tree. Our sincere condolences go out to those involved and their friends and families."

Avalanche danger is greater on the western edge of the Tetons, where 18 inches of snow fell Sunday.

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