Big Sky, MT, Dec. 1–The investigation into the death of a 26-year-old employee of Big Sky Resort continues today as the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office and resort officials try to determine exactly how five skiers touched off a small, but deadly avalanche last Friday. Jack Gilliam, one of two skiers caught in the slide and a bellman at the resort, was swept some 250 vertical feet to a natural terrain trap where he was buried under 6 1/2 feet of snow.
Five skiers apparently hiked up into in-bounds, but closed terrain in the Crons section of the Lone Mountain bowl. There were no lifts running in the area and the skiers did not have authorization to ski that section of the mountain as it was not patrolled.
Though there were only 11 inches of snow at mid-mountain at the time, the north-facing slope had picked up new snow over the previous 24 hours and it was snowing heavily at the time. Avalanche experts say this new, dense snow was resting on top a base layer of loose snow and the avalanche was triggered when two of the skiers tried to hike across the slope.
One of the skiers was immediately spotted by witnesses when the slide stopped because his hand was exposed. He was uncovered and suffered minor injuries. The victim was then uncovered within 10 minutes of being buried after a transceiver search, but efforts to resuscitate him failed.
The accident points up the fact that it doesn’t take much snow to create a deadly avalanche. Wind and high elevations historically combine to create early-season slide situations, even when the snowpack is minimal.