Whitefish firefighter dies in avalanche in Glacier

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Ben Parsons talks with students at Whitefish High School in 2012. (Pilot file photo)

Authorities on Friday released the name of the Kalispell man who was killed in an avalanche Thursday afternoon while backcountry skiing on Stanton Mountain in Glacier National Park.

Ben Parsons, 36, was a well-known firefighter and paramedic with the Whitefish Fire Department. He died from trauma sustained after he was caught in the slide, which occurred about 500 feet below the summit of the mountain, according to park spokeswoman Lauren Alley.

Stanton Mountain rises to 7,750 feet in elevation along the shore of Lake McDonald.

Alley said Thursday night that Parsons had been backcountry skiing with two other people. Neither of his companions were caught in the avalanche, and one of them was able to use a cell phone to get help.

“The companion closest to the victim was able to immediately search for the victim, find him, warm him and comfort him” until emergency crews arrived, Alley said.

The Flathead Avalanche Center rated the overall avalanche danger in south Glacier Park as “moderate” above 6,000 feet on Thursday, and about 5,000 feet on Friday.

The avalanche center issued a statement on its website, stating, “Lingering wind slab instability exists throughout the advisory area particularly in locations where they formed on weak snow. The avalanche danger is MODERATE above 5000 feet where human triggered avalanches are possible. Carefully evaluate wind loaded slopes and keep in mind the potential for a small avalanche to step down in to deeper weak layers.”

While Glacier is a popular destination for experienced backcountry skiers, fatal avalanches in the park are relatively rare. The last such incident occurred in 2010, when Whitefish resident Brian C. Wright was struck and killed by an avalanche while skiing on a peak adjacent to Mount Shields.

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