In the past week, 4 individuals have died in avalanches in CO, WY, UT and here in MT bringing the season total to 10 as of January 23. The accident in SW MT Tuesday hits close to home as it involved an avalanche professional.  Darren Johnson, a professional ski patroller at the Yellowstone Club near Big Sky, MT, and a Forest Service wildland firefighter at the Powell Ranger District, died after being caught in a slide while returning back to the resort after a day of working with other avalanche pro’s conducting research in a backcountry area.

Like many of us, Darren found a rewarding career working with snow in the winter months and fire in the summers. Both can be dangerous occupations at times so personal safety is always foremost in everyone’s mind when in these environments.   Unfortunately, as shown this week in several accidents and close calls, when one lets their guard down, a great day can turn tragic in a heartbeat.

Our thoughts are with Darrens’s family, friends and co-workers.

This has been an especially dangerous year in SW MT and other inter-mountain locations with a deadly layer of facets at the ground which can never be trusted. The snowpack in west central MT does not have the same widespread weak layer at the ground, but we have seen and heard about several close calls in the past few days involving a weak new snow/old snow surface interface.  A MODERATE avalanche danger rating does not give the green light to blindly jump in.

Take the time to assess the slope you want to ski or ride on.  It doesn’t take much time to dig down a meter or so, do a quick stability test and move to less steep terrain if you are unsure. You can still have a great time in deep snow on slopes less than 30 degrees.


Darren Johnson Avalanche Education Memorial Fund

The National Avalanche Foundation set up an education fund in memory of Darren Johnson, the Yellowstone Club ski patroller who died in an avalanche on January 19. You can check out details and make donations here: