An Elko, Nevada, resident died snowmobiling in a Salt River Range avalanche Friday, likely as a result of blunt force trauma.
Brandon Jones, 41, was snowmobiling away from his group late on Dec. 18 on a slope of what locals call “Suicide Mountain” when he triggered a medium-sized avalanche with a two-foot crown. He was able to deploy an airbag, which kept him near the snow surface, with only his leg buried under the snow, according to Lincoln County Coroner Dain Schwab.
“It’s horrible,” Schwab said. "The most probable cause [of death] was an injury he received during the slide, possibly from a rock or tree."
When Jones' snowmobiling partners did find him, he lacked a pulse, was blue in the face, wasn’t breathing and had foam at the mouth. The man who found Jones suspected he had broken his neck, and Schwab has ordered a CT scan to see if this contributed to the death. As of Wednesday morning the results of that scan had not been returned.
CPR was not administered, according to the coroner, who visited the scene the night of the accident.
“It was actually pretty dangerous just digging him out of there,” Schwab said. “We were up on the hillside under cornices that were unbroken.”
Jones and his party were snowmobiling in the Sheep Pass area, roughly a dozen miles southeast of Afton at the far southern end of the Salt River Range. The slide occurred at nearly 10,000 feet on an eastern aspect.
The fatality marks the first lethal avalanche of the winter in Northwest Wyoming.
Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center Director Bob Comey visited the site on Sunday to investigate the slide path, determining it ran over the crusted snowpack that baked in the sun during the dry spell in late November and early December.
“We dug a snow pit near the site yesterday, and we feel confident that this was all the new snow that has fallen since Dec. 11,” Comey said. “The avalanche conditions are still dangerous up there. People should be careful.”
The avalanche danger on Monday morning was still deemed “considerable” at high elevations in the Salt and Wyoming ranges, according to the Bridger-Teton’s morning forecast.
Jones had a wife, Mary, and three kids, Blayde, Ebony and Slayde, according to a Facebook post by the Elko business Evolution Powersports. A funeral service has been scheduled for 11 a.m. Wednesday in Malad, Idaho.
Eds. note — This story has been updated to correct inaccurate information about the cause of Brandon Jones' death that was provided to Lincoln County Coroner Dain Schwab, and in turn to the Jackson Hole Daily. After conducting more interviews and investigation, the coroner concluded that asphyxiation was not the cause of death.