Utah snowmobiler killed in Commissary Ridge avalanche

An avalanche on Friday, Dec. 29, in the Commissary Ridge area north of Kemmerer killed a 35-year-old snowmobiler from Utah. (COURTESY PHOTO / Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center) 

A 35-year-old Utah man has died at the Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center after he was buried for a short time in the Commissary Ridge area of the Bridger-Teton National forest north of Kemmerer.

Brennan Walpole was snowmobiling with a large group of Utah riders on Friday, Dec. 29, when the accident occurred. The Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center reported he was wearing an airbag at the time, but it did not deploy. He was located with a beacon by other snowmobilers in his party.

The avalanche caught five snowmobilers, partially burying two and burying and killing Walpole. The avalanche victim was side-hilling when the slide released. Walpole was buried for almost 10 minutes. The slide failed on a buried layer of surface hoar and dug down through several inches of faceted snow to a hard crust that formed in late November.

Star Valley Search and Rescue responded to the scene Friday afternoon. They accessed the accident site from the Smith’s Fork trail head south of Afton.

Walpole was airlifted to the Idaho Falls hospital.Walpole was married and had three children. Funeral services will be held in Spanish Fork, Utah.

On Jan. 1, the center reported:  “The general avalanche hazard remains ‘considerable.’ Conditions remain dangerous. Our snow-pack is unstable due to its poor structure, persistent weak layers of faceted snow on top of a hard crust.

“Large slab avalanches are likely to be triggered by the weight of a single person in steep active avalanche paths that have not recently slid. Expert terrain analysis skills and conservative terrain choices are essential for safe travel in avalanche terrain.”

For avalanche forecasts, visit avalanche.org or the Bridger Teton Avalanche Center website at jhavalanche.org.