Law enforcement officials and outdoor recreation enthusiasts said Sunday that the avalanche that killed a 28-year-old snowmobiler at Paulina Peak on Saturday is a reminder of the unpredictability of nature — and the importance of being prepared when enjoying the backcountry.
Wesley Bryan Amos, of La Pine, died Saturday afternoon when he was trapped beneath an approximately 200-yard-wide avalanche of snow. Amos had been riding a snowmobile alone in the area of Paulina Peak, about 16 miles east of La Pine, said Lt. Michael Espinoza of the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office.
Espinoza said other snowmobilers saw Amos disappear after the avalanche and searched for him for about 15 minutes before finding his body in the snow.
“The group that had happened to see him before saw the event happen, the avalanche, and looked back to where they had seen the other rider,” he said. “They knew he was alone and tried to make the appropriate efforts to locate him. They were able to find him, but it was too late.”
Family members told officials that Amos was an avid snowmobiler who had spent time in the Paulina Peak area, Espinoza said. Amos’ snowmobile was recovered and returned to his family on Sunday.
La Pine resident Peggy Spieger, the executive director of the Oregon State Snowmobile Association, didn’t know Amos, but said she and other snowmobilers were shocked by the news of his death. Spieger said Paulina Peak is a popular recreation spot and not usually thought of as a place with a high risk for avalanche.
But she said Saturday’s event was a reminder that people should use caution and think about the way the weather could impact the terrain.
“I think after we have a heavy snowfall and the weather warms up, it’s always time to take extra caution and be extra aware of where you are,” Spieger said.
Trevor Miller and Jon Tapper, co-founders of the Bend-based Central Oregon Avalanche Association, said they were also saddened to hear what had happened. Their group, founded last fall, aims to provide information about avalanches for skiers, snowboarders, snowmobilers and others — and bring more resources for forecasting and tracking avalanches to Central Oregon.
Miller said more and more people are beginning to spend time in areas like Paulina Peak, which means understanding and tracking avalanches is particularly important.
“We’ve seen an increase in use within Central Oregon of Paulina (Peak) and multiple other areas ... There’s a relatively low percentage of (avalanche) incidents within Central Oregon, and I attribute that to the fact that we haven’t had a user population out there in the past,” he said. “But the numbers are creeping up, and that allows for opportunities to knock more often.”
Tapper said avalanches can be tricky to predict but are typically triggered by major weather changes, like a quick temperature warm-up or a period of snow and rain.
“In this instance, we had a lot of snow over a short period of time, yo-yoing freezing levels: it snows, it rains, it freezes and now the surface is hard,” he said. “You get a large mass of wet snow, and then it warms up, gets rained on, and this is a less stable kind of snowpack.”
Tapper said it’s important for people to pay attention to snowpack levels and weather, and to bring some key items when they head out into the backcountry, including a shovel, a probe and an avalanche transceiver, a device that can send out a signal and help rescuers find a person buried under the snow.
It’s not clear what equipment Amos was carrying at the time of the avalanche.
Miller and Tapper said it’s also vital to go out with at least one other person, and map out a route and time schedule.
Espinoza said his office is still investigating the event, but officials believe they’ve already found most of the facts of the incident.
“We’re kind of at a standpoint: We know that he was alone, we know where his location was, we know there was an avalanche,” he said. “There’s nothing to lead us any other way.”
On the Web
For more information about the Central Oregon Avalanche Association, visit www .coavalanche.org.