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Contact: Amy Vanderbilt, 406 888-5838
Contact: Wade Muehlhof, 406 888-7895
WEST GLACIER, MONT. – Rangers at Glacier National Park are continuing their investigation into the death of Brian Curtis Wright, 37, of East Glacier, Montana, whose body was recovered in avalanche debris on the northeast face of Mt. Shields late Thursday afternoon, April 1. Rangers believe Wright triggered a large slab avalanche while snowboarding on Mt. Shields at approximately 1 p.m. Wednesday March 31 shortly after talking to his mother via cell phone from the summit of Mt. Shields. Mt. Shields is located in the southern most portion of Glacier National Park within a few miles of U.S. Highway 2. The Mt. Shields area is popular with backcountry ski and snowboard enthusiasts.
The fatality was reported to park rangers around 2 p.m. on Thursday, April 1. The reporting party told rangers they had last heard from Wright at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, March 30 when Wright texted friends that he was on Mt. Shields (elev. 7131 ft.). When friends did not receive responses to subsequent text messages on Wednesday, they grew concerned. Thursday, a friend located Wright’s vehicle at the Fielding Ranger Station trailhead and skied up to Mt. Shields where Wright’s body was spotted high in a gully within the slide path of a recent avalanche. The backcountry party skied out and called park headquarters to report the avalanche and fatality.
Park personnel were dispatched to the trailhead Thursday afternoon. Rangers skied up the northeast face of Mt. Shields to where they located Wright’s body and confirmed the fatality at 5:45 p.m. Additional park personnel were also dispatched and were on hand to respond as needed. A total of 20 NPS employees and a helicopter from Minuteman Aviation of West Glacier were involved in the park’s overall response to the incident.
At the scene, rangers found tracks that suggested Wright had made two trips up the face of Mt. Shields. One set of tracks was located in an open area with few trees. Field personnel observed a two-foot deep fracture in the snow pack just below the summit of Mt. Shields on its northeast face. Rangers believe this route most likely triggered the avalanche which ran about 2,000 vertical feet; the overall reach of the avalanche was approximately 2,500 to 3,000 feet. The avalanche was approximately 150 yards wide and narrowed as it ran down a narrow gully. Wright’s body was about 200-300 yards above the end (toe) of the avalanche slide path. Investigating rangers believe he tumbled approximately 2,000 feet before his body came to rest at an elevation of 5,427 feet. Avalanche debris in the vicinity of Wright’s body was measured at 20-30 feet deep; however, his body was only partially covered in the avalanche debris.
Wright was an avid outdoorsman and knowledgeable backcountry traveler. Friends believed that Wright had an avalanche transceiver, but thus far, neither Wright’s backpack nor his transceiver have been located.
Park officials are saddened by this tragic death; however, they stress that all backcountry travelers are urged to be familiar with current avalanche conditions and heed avalanche warnings when venturing into avalanche prone backcountry areas as well as to have appropriate avalanche equipment (avalanche transceivers/beacons, probes and sturdy shovels). Backcountry enthusiasts are also urged not to travel alone, to have and know how to operate avalanche transceivers/beacons and to let someone know their itinerary and expected return date and approximate time.
Winter backcountry travelers are reminded that backcountry permits are required for all overnight backcountry trips. This contact allows park personnel to ensure that backcountry travelers are well prepared and familiar with current avalanche conditions. Winter permits are available, at no charge, Mondays through Fridays at park headquarters, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and on weekends at the Apgar Visitor Center from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Avalanches are a real danger in the mountainous areas throughout Glacier National Park and surrounding areas. All backcountry travelers are urged to check www.glacieravalanche.org for the latest avalanche hazard and weather advisory before entering the park’s backcountry.
A team of rangers are continuing their investigation on Mt. Shields today; however, no further details are available at this time.
- NPS -
Editor’s Note: Video footage and digital images of the avalanche path are available by request from the Public Affairs Office. Please call 406-888-7895 to request.