JACKSON — The man who died in an avalanche near Breccia Cliffs on Monday was wearing an airbag and a beacon, investigators said.
But Teton County Coroner Dr. Brent Blue said Dale Laedtke, 27, suffocated under the snow before his friends could dig him out.
“There was no evidence of blunt force trauma,” Blue said.
Avalanche airbags are designed to inflate so the person wearing the backpack floats to the top of the debris, rather than sinking lower.
First responders said Laedtke’s airbag was inflated when they found him, but he was still buried three feet under the snow.
The investigation in ongoing, but preliminary information revealed that Laedtke and three of his friends “had completed several runs in the same area of where the avalanche occurred,” according to a press release sent by the Teton County Sheriff’s Office.
“Laedtke left the group on the opposite slope of the avalanche and was attempting to high mark the previous runs in the area,” Teton County Sheriff’s Sgt. Clay Platt said in the release. “During this attempt, Laedtke got above the high marks and turned across the slope for a short distance when the avalanche started.”
Witnesses told investigators that Laedtke turned his snowmobile downhill and accelerated but was thrown from his machine.
“The remaining members of the snowmobiling party were able to locate Laedtke using beacons and probes within approximately five minutes,” Platt said.
Laedtke’s friends vigorously dug and found him quickly, but he was unresponsive and had minor signs of trauma on his face.
That’s when they called 911 and started CPR, police said. They continued CPR until Teton County Search and Rescue arrived, but Laedtke was later pronounced dead on scene.
“It was determined Laedtke was wearing appropriate safety gear for snowmobiling, including an avalanche airbag pack, beacon, helmet and goggles at the time of the avalanche,” Platt said.
The Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center visited the avalanche site Wednesday.
Director Bob Comey said the slab that broke was 3 to 5 feet feet thick and broke on a weak layer of faceted snow on an avalanche-prone slope.
Laedtke, a Wisconsin man, was on a snowmobiling trip with friends from Minnesota and Wisconsin.
There have been 18 avalanche-related fatalities in the U.S. this winter season, according to Avalanche.org. Three have happened in western Wyoming.
“Breccia Cliffs is very serious terrain,” Teton County Sheriff Matt Carr said.
There have been avalanches there before, Comey said.
“That area is somewhat accessible to sleds,” Comey said. “It’s ridden a lot. It’s a scary slope, and with our snowpack the way it is, unfortunately the recipe came together for a trigger.”
Another Wisconsin resident was killed in an avalanche in January, also near Togwotee Pass but closer to Mount Leidy.
Cody Christopherson, 29, was snowmobiling with a big group of friends and family when he drove his sled up a steep slope, triggering an avalanche that buried him.
Christopherson also died of asphyxiation, Blue said.
According to his obituary in the Post Crescent, the newspaper in Appleton, Laedtke's "sense of adventure was greater than most. He didn't worry about how long it would take to get there or even how he would get there. He strived for the adventure that was to be enjoyed.”