Glacier National Park Avalanche Victim Apparently Faced Varying Avalanche Danger

Top photo shows the slope where an avalanche swept a Montana man to his death in Glacier National Park. Bottom photo shows the slide path. Photos via Glacier Country Avalanche Center.

It had to be tempting: fresh snow, an early spring day in Glacier National Park's backcountry, and fresh tracks to be laid down. But Brian Wright's third run of the day proved fatal when a weak snow-bond gave way and spurred an avalanche that ran roughly 1,800 vertical feet, according to an investigation.

The slide is believed to have caught the 37-year-old Montana man sometime on March 31; his body was recovered April 1 after a friend hiked into the backcountry to Mount Shields and found the snowboarder.

According to the investigation performed by an interagency team of avalanche experts, Mr. Wright had made two runs down a slope facing south-southeast on Mount Shields before heading over to one facing northeast. During this run the slide broke away from the mountainside and overran Mr. Wright with enough force to separate him from his snowboard, the report noted.

The avalanche came in the wake of a Pacific storm system that had dumped 15-18 inches of snow in the park's backcountry near Mount Shields. Avalanche danger in the park at elevations between 5,000 feet and 7,500 feet had ranged from "low" to "considerable" two days before the storm arrived, according to Glacier Country Avalanche Center records.

The investigative team's report noted that, "A snow profile completed on the crown of the avalanche showed the storm-deposited snow sitting on a layer of mixed-form faceted crystals over a layer of larger, softer, mixed-form faceted crystals. The bed surface of the avalanche was the larger, softer layer of mixed-form faceted crystals. This layer was an average of 34 inches above the ground. As the avalanche progressed downhill it entrained wet, heavier snow. The bed surface was easily penetrable, and, in some cases, very soft and 'sugary.'"

Glacier officials said exact details of the actual avalanche event are not known because the victim was alone. According to friends, Mr. Wright was very familiar with the area and snowboarded there quite often, park officials said.

Avalanches are a real danger in the mountainous areas throughout Glacier National Park and surrounding areas. All backcountry travelers are urged to check www.glacieravalanche.org for the latest avalanche hazard and weather advisory before entering the park’s backcountry.