Avalanche kills experienced snowmobiler

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

A Pine man snowmobiling with friends died in an avalanche in the Trinity Mountains Saturday.

Mark Claassen, 45, the owner of Pine Motor Sports, was a "very experienced" snowmobiler who knew the mountains well, said Deputy Rick Bohling of the Elmore County Sheriff's Department.

Bohling said Claassen and several friends were riding in a bowl in the Trinity Lakes area, which was surrounded by a number of windblown cornices.

Claassen left his party of 10-12 people, Bohling said, and apparently rode up to the top of one of the cornices, out of site of his party.

About 45 minutes later the other members of his party began to get worried and started looking for him. Several had walkie-talkie radios, Bohling said, and were using them in the search, when another party of half a dozen people that had been snowmobiling in roughly the same area, and which also had walkie-talkies, informed them than an avalanche had broken loose a few minutes previously "and they said they could see a snowmobile in the snow."

Both parties converged on the scene and began a beacon search and probes of the snow. No beacon was identified (Bohling said he wasn't sure if Claassen had one), but after a few minutes his body was found and he was dug out of the snow. He had been buried about 3 to 5 feet under the snow "and he'd just been there too long," about 15 minutes, Bohling said. CPR was performed on him for 35-40 minutes but he did not recover.

Authorities first learned of the accident through a "very broken up" cell-phone call to the Featherville bar. "Pretty much, they could just make out that there'd been an avalance and somebody needed help," Bohling said. About the same time one of the members of Claassen's party came down off the mountain.

Sheriff's deputies and Search and Rescue teams were dispatched to the area, "but we pretty much knew going in we were in recovery, not rescue, mode," Bohling said.

Bohling noted that "today's snowmobiles can climb just about anything, but it's dangerous up there right now. Those cornices break off and the whole mountain can come down."

He said the avalanche measured about 50 yards wide and about 300 yards long, and was "filled with tree debris and chucks of snow and ice as big as a Volkswagen."

Jim Nolan, who heads the county search and rescue team, noted that "in this kind of weather, the avalanche danger is going to be high from now on. Be very cautious of conditions every day. Things are melting like crazy right now, and the snowpack is moving."

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