Big Sky, MT, Nov. 30--Tragedy struck a group of five early-ski-season enthusiasts hiking on uncontrolled and unopened terrain at Big Sky Ski Resort, MT, over Thanksgiving weekend.
On Friday, Nov. 26 the backcountry skiers hiked up to a north-facing slope above the closed triple chair in the Lone Mountain bowl. Some of the skiers in the group had recently skied this area, but a heavy snowstorm that day made for much different and rather dangerous conditions.
As the group began to cross a 100-150 foot stretch of slope, an avalanche broke and swept away the first two in the group. Both slid about 250 feet and were then buried by debris and snow. One victim was easy to locate, as he managed to keep his left hand sticking out of the snow. The other victim disappeared deep into a gully.
The rest of the group quickly dug out the first skier, who only suffered minor injuries. Unfortunately, the second victim was not found as easily. It took approximately 15 minutes of searching with an avalanche beacon and then digging to uncover the other skier, Jack Gilliam, a 26-year-old Big Sky employee. He was unconscious. Despite attempts to revive him by an off-duty patroller, Gilliam died at 3:14 p.m.
An investigation into the exact cause of the avalanche remains under way.