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Avalanche that killed Preston man captured in newly released video

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Courtesy Utah Avalanche Center

MONTPELIER — Newly released video shows an avalanche on Sherman Peak that killed a Preston man last month.

Allen Foss, 48, rode his snowmobile on the Bear Lake County mountain when caught in an avalanche Feb. 20. The Utah Avalanche Center says the avalanche buried Foss under 12 feet of snow, a depth where survival would have been unlikely.

Foss and Doug Saxton, 50, and Doug’s son, Mason Saxton, 22, left that morning from the Copenhagen Basin parking area in Emigration Canyon before reaching Sherman Peak about 10 miles away. The group avoided avalanche terrain on the way to Sherman Peak as the Saxtons stoped at the short steep gully.

Foss continued up the gully, unable to hear Saxton’s warnings to not head into the avalanche-prone terrain.

“Doug saw the avalanche a second before it hit, yelled ‘Avalanche!’, wrapped his arm through his handlebars, and braced for impact,” the Utah Avalanche Center writes in their preliminary report. “He was blasted hard by the airborne powder cloud, and a deep torrent of heavy avalanche debris ran about 6 inches in front of his sled’s skis.”

RELATED | GoFundMe set up for family of Preston man killed in avalanche

Mason stopped at the gully’s edge and did not see the avalanche until the cloud of snow came by. Mason reportedly thought the cloud was blowing snow until he saw chunks of snow flying 30 feet in the air, as seen in the video above.

“After the avalanche debris stopped, both Foss and his sled were gone, and it did not take long for his companions to realize that the avalanche had buried him,” the report reads. The avalanche likely hit Foss from behind and knocked him off his snowmobile in the gully. He was later found under about 12 feet of heavy avalanche debris.”

The Saxtons searched for Foss for about 40 minutes. Officials report Foss was not wearing an avalanche beacon at the time of the incident, and it’s believed it fell out of his pocket earlier that morning.

Without any beacon to locate Foss, Doug went to get help and the Bear Lake County Sheriff’s Office received a call around 11 a.m. Search and Rescue teams from Bear Lake, Caribou and Franklin Counties all rushed to the scene.

Another Preston man, Mike Porter, owns a cabin at the base of nearby Skinner Canyon. At the time of the avalanche, Porter hosted a private avalanche class for about 20 people and was on the way to Sherman Peak.

Allen Foss | Obituary photo

As the group headed toward the mountain, Doug Saxton came down, asking for help. Realizing it was not a drill and seeing the debris, members of the group radioed Porter about the situation, according to the Avalanche Center.

The avalanche class and the Saxtons kept using their beacons to search for Foss but then realized it was not transmitting or signal, or he was not wearing it. The group then began searching the debris field with 10-foot-long avalanche probes to search for the man.

One of the searchers hit the back end of Foss’s snowmobile with a probe nine-feet under the snow. People kept digging the sled while others continued to search for Foss.

By the time rescue crews arrived around 11:45 a.m., searchers had probed the hole they were digging in and found Foss a few feet uphill and a little below his snowmobile. The Avalanche Center reports because Foss was so deep, the 10-foot-long probes could not hit him.

“By this time, there were over 30 rescuers at the accident site,” the report reads. “They spent approximately 30 more minutes digging him out of the avalanche debris. There happened to be a doctor in Porter’s class who was able to determine that, despite the heroic rescue attempt, Allen had passed.”

In the days following the tragedy, friends set up a GoFundMe pageto help the Foss family. As of Monday morning, the page had raised around $17,000 — $2,000 over the goal.

February 2021 has proven fatal for snow enthusiasts, with 26 people losing their lives in avalanches across the country. Many have taken place in the west with high-snowfalls from several storms.

“The only way we could have avoided this avalanche accident was for us simply to not have been there,” Doug Saxton said, according to the Avalanche Center.

Officials recommend people take an avalanche safety course, follow safety procedures and look at the avalanche forecast.

RELATED | Avalanche on Idaho’s Tiger Peak kills snowmobiler

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