Ski patrollers tromp across avalanche routes in the wan light of dawn just as most skiers and riders are rubbing sleep from their eyes and checking the snow report. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort had a grim reminder this month of just how hazardous the job of patrolling is.
Mark Wolling, 58, a ski patroller at the resort since 1989, was caught and buried in an early morning inbounds avalanche Jan. 6. The resort had received 10 inches of snow overnight after several days of heavy snowfall, requiring routine avalanche hazard reduction by the resort's patrollers.
The avalanche occurred in Cheyenne Bowl after ski cutting and charges triggered a fracture more than three feet deep above where Wolling and another patrolman stood on the 34-degree slope. The avalanche swept up both men as it ripped a 130-foot-wide swath over a 25-foot cliff and down 1,000 feet. Wolling's patrol partner rescued himself by catching onto a tree while the torrent of snow swept Wolling away.
Wolling was found 10 minutes later buried under six feet of snow. He was transported to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center in Idaho Falls, but died three days later due to his injuries.
Friends, family, and mountain employees mourned Wolling's passing at an evening service packed by hundreds in Teton Village Jan. 13. The patrol created a seven-bomb salute in memory of their comrade by using avalanche hand charges--the number of bombs representing Wolling's Route 7, where the avalanche occurred.
Wolling was known around the mountain as "Big Wally." The resort announced that Bivouac Run would be renamed as Wally World in honor of the patroller.