HELENA, Mont. – The threat of another avalanche delayed search-and-rescue efforts Tuesday at the site of a large snow slide that killed two backcountry skiers near the Whitefish Mountain Resort in northwestern Montana.
Authorities still didn't know if more skiers were caught in Sunday's avalanche. Witnesses have said they saw two other people in the area of the slide, although authorities have not received any missing person reports.
A storm moved through the area early Tuesday, bringing high winds and heavy snow that could prompt another slide. Flathead County Sheriff Mike Meehan said the search will resume once authorities can determine the area is safe.
Rescuers have faced difficult terrain, including trees downed by tons of snow crashing down a mountain and miserable weather as they search. Some 100 rescuers on Monday used long poles to probe the snow every few inches to look for possible victims. Search dogs and a helicopter also assisted in the effort.
The slide occurred on the opposite side of the mountain from the resort about 210 miles northwest of Helena. The avalanche was on U.S. Forest Service land, said Donnie Clap, spokesman for Whitefish Mountain Resort.
"We set off explosions to mitigate the (avalanche) risk within our boundaries," Clap said. "When you ski out of bounds, you are really taking your life in your own hands."
The two victims were identified as Anthony Kollmann, 19, of Kalispell, and David Gogolak, 36, a former San Francisco restaurateur who recently moved to Whitefish.
Gogolak's body was found under about 3 feet of snow and debris. He was not wearing an avalanche beacon, according to the Missoulian newspaper. His brother-in-law was skiing with him and was partially buried but was able to dig himself out, according to the newspaper.
In Wyoming, three men from the state, identified as Scott Bennett, Alan Jensen and Kim Steed, were killed in an avalanche while snowmobiling Saturday south of Jackson. Authorities have said they believe the men did not trigger the Wyoming slide, attributing the avalanche to nature.
Avalanches have killed at least 21 people across the West since Dec. 2, according to the National Avalanche Center. The national annual average for avalanche deaths is about 25. Thirty-five people were killed nationwide in avalanches in the 2001-2002 season, the most on record, according to the U.S. Forest Service.