BIG SKY (AP)
An avalanche killed a college student on a backcountry ski trip in the mountains west of Big Sky, the Gal lat in Count y Sheriff's Department said Monday. Tyler Stetson, a Montana State University student from Shelburne, Vt . , died af ter being swept up in the avalanche Sunday on a slope in s o u t hwe s t e r n Mo n ta n a ' s Beehive Basin area, the sheriff's department said. The avalanche carried Stetson into trees and he was dead from trauma when searchers found him within 10 minutes of the slide, according to the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center. Searchers included his ski partner and other people in the area. The avalanche broke the snow between Stetson and his partner, who was safely above the slide while Stetson was below it, said Scott Schmidt of the avalanche center. Stetson, a junior at MSU in Bozeman, was in his 20s. To check the snow's stability, he and his partner had dug a pit above where the avalanche started and they got "so-so results," Schmidt said. He was at the scene Monday and dug two pits, about 300 feet apart. One indicated that the snow was stable, and the other that it was unstable, he said. "We have a lot of variability in the snowpack," Schmidt said. He said searchers had been able to find Stetson rapidly because he wore a signalemitting device and his backpack could be seen above the snow. The avalanche came a week after one that killed two backcountry skiers near the Whitefish Mountain Resort in northwestern Montana. Two witnesses said the avalanche Jan. 13 buried at least two more skiers. Authorities cited bad weather, unstable snow and lack of a missing-person report in suspending a search three days later. That avalanche occurred on U.S. Forest Service land, outside of resort boundaries. In Wyoming, three men died in an avalanche while snowmobiling on Jan. 12 in the Star Val ley south of Jackson. Avalanches have killed at least 22 people across the West since Dec. 2. The national average for avalanche deaths is about 25 a year, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.