Teton slide kills 2 in Wyoming
March 11, 2012
An avalanche on 11,355-foot Ranger Peak in Grand Teton National Park on Wednesday killed ski pioneer and blogger Steve Romeo and Jackson Hole Mountain Resort tram maintenance manager Chris Onufer.The slide carried the skiers, who were climbing, roughly 3,000 vertical feet and buried them near the surface of debris averaging six feet deep, the park and Bridger-Teton National Forest Avalanche Center reported. Searchers uncovered the bodies just before noon Thursday.The two apparently skied across roughly three miles of frozen Jackson Lake on Wednesday, heading up the peak in the northern end of the Teton Range. Onufer, 42, failed to pick up his father, John, as scheduled at Jackson Hole Airport on Wednesday night, and John Onufer then alerted authorities.Both were expert skiers but were undertaking an excursion into extreme terrain. Romeo, 40, authored the TetonAT website, writing regularly about his alpine touring excursions and even some near misses with avys.In sight of the peak where his son died, John Onufer on Thursday thanked searchers and called the pair “two good fellows.”The slide debris was visible to the naked eye from as far as 14 miles. The avalanche initiated on a southeast flank of the peak above Waterfalls Canyon and ran into that drainage just beneath Columbine Cascade.The avalanche crown was about three feet deep and 300 feet across near the 10,500-foot elevation.Following the call from John Onufer, rangers found Chris Onufer’s vehicle parked at Colter Bay early Thursday morning and prepared for a search. Jackson Lake lies between Ranger Peak and the Colter Bay Trailhead on Highway 191.Rangers launched their operation Thursday morning and spotted avalanche debris on the south side of the peak. Using a helicopter contracted by Teton County for search and rescue, they flew low over the debris field at 8:40 a.m., a park spokeswoman said.Searchers sought beacon signals from avalanche transceivers and at 8:48 a.m. found two. The helicopter flew seven rangers to the debris to begin probing the snow, officials said.Rangers reached the first body at approximately 11:45 a.m. and the second 15 minutes later. The team brought the victims back to the east shore and Colter Bay at 1:52 p.m. Searchers turned the bodies over to Teton County Coroner Kiley Campbell by 2 p.m. Blunt force trauma killed them, Campbell said.Onufer’s father witnessed search and recovery efforts from a staging area.”I sincerely want to thank the whole community … on behalf of my son, myself,” he said. He named Teton park rangers and Teton County Search and Rescue specifically.”I just want to give them my heartfelt thanks,” he said. “It was two good fellows who died – Chris and Steve.”The avalanche center forecasted the danger Wednesday as moderate, meaning human-triggered avalanches were possible. The center said soft slabs up to 14 inches deep formed the day before.”The new snow rests on slick sun crusts … and the[y] will easily slide with human triggers,” the forecast said.