Four men were snowmobiling in a rugged area of the West
Cabinet Range about 17 miles southwest of Troy, Montana on
Saturday afternoon when two of them were caught in an avalanche,
the Libby County Sheriff's Department said.
One of the riders was buried with only his face exposed and was
pulled to safety unharmed by his companions but Bryan William
Harlow, 49, was found under some four to six feet (1.2 to 1.8
meter) of compacted snow and was not breathing when he was
freed, according to sheriff's department.
Two of Harlow's friends performed CPR on him while a third rode
his snowmobile out of the area to call 911, but he was
pronounced dead on the scene by a search and rescue team.
The sheriff's department said that the four men had been aware
of the avalanche danger and were taking precautions but that an
on-site investigation would not be possible because of the high
avalanche risk in the area.
Including Harlow, avalanches have killed 16 skiers and
snowmobilers in Western states in less than two months, well
over the nine deaths recorded in the same period last year.
Government specialists say the uptick in killer avalanches stems
in part from unusually dense and wet snows that have lately
blanketed the mountain West after an extended dry spell weakened
a base layer of snow laid early in the season.
Federal avalanche centers in Idaho, Montana and Colorado have
stepped up warnings as to winter recreation seekers, whose
numbers in the snowy back country have grown in the last decade
alongside advances that have made treks possible to steep winter
terrain that was once nearly inaccessible.
U.S. avalanche deaths have increased over the past two decades,
hitting a record number of 36 twice since 2007 in seasons that
typically span late fall to late spring, peaking in January and
February, according to federal figures.
Avalanches are common in the snowcapped peaks of the mountainous
West, where 100-yard (91-meter) slides the length of a football
field can travel at speeds of 50 to 250 miles an hour (80.5 to
402 km an hour).
Most deadly avalanches are triggered by snowmobilers and skiers
on federal land in the Rockies, Cascades and High Sierras that
offers prime and mostly unregulated access to snow.
(Editing by Eric Walsh)
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