Search continues for physician lost while skiing in backcountry

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  • The Two Bear Air search and rescue helicopter searches for a missing skier in the backcountry near Whitefish Mountain Resort on Monday afternoon. (Peregrine Frissell/Daily Inter Lake)

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    Dr. Jonathan Torgerson

  • The Two Bear Air search and rescue helicopter searches for a missing skier in the backcountry near Whitefish Mountain Resort on Monday afternoon. (Peregrine Frissell/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 1

    Dr. Jonathan Torgerson

Search and rescue teams scoured the backcountry near Whitefish Mountain Resort for a fourth day Tuesday for a skier who reportedly left the ski resort boundary Saturday near the Flower Point area.

Flathead County Sheriff Chuck Curry identified the missing man as Jonathan Scott Torgerson, 62, from Columbia Falls. Torgerson is a long practicing area physician who works at North Valley Hospital in Whitefish.

A full-fledged ground and air search of the nearby backcountry terrain where the skier was last seen was ongoing as of presstime.

“They searched until after dark last night, and we are back at it,” Curry told the Daily Inter Lake on Monday.

In a press release, Curry said the Sheriff’s Office received the initial report that Torgerson was missing at 7:15 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 17. According to Curry, Torgerson was skiing alone when he left the ski resort boundary near the Flower Point area on Saturday.

A search was initiated Saturday evening by members of North Valley and Flathead Search and Rescue units with no results.

A winter storm hit the area Saturday night into Sunday morning, dumping more than a foot of snow on the slopes overnight. On Sunday, gusts near 50 mph and wind chills near minus 30 were reported on Big Mountain’s summit.

According to Curry, the winter storm hampered searchers on Saturday night, and the search was suspended before resuming Sunday morning with search and rescue organizations and the Flathead Avalanche Center participating. High winds and reduced visibility continued to hamper search efforts, and the Two Bear Air rescue helicopter was able to join the efforts until visibility deteriorated.

Searchers on the scene Monday morning told the Daily Inter Lake that Torgerson’s last known location was the area known locally as “Kona” east of the Flower Point summit and just beyond the “Goolie” area.

Curry said his office was told by Torgerson’s family that he was wearing an avalanche transceiver, and that searchers on the ground and in the air were looking for signals from that device or a Recco reflector that may have been in his coat. He said they had investigated some hits, but they did not lead to Torgerson.

“We have had some intermittent hits that we have been investigating.” Curry said. “We’ve chased a few ghost signals that haven’t panned out.”

He said skiers were also searching tree wells and looking for other visual clues on the ground that could lead to his whereabouts.

Flower Point is a common spot for skiers to enter backcountry terrain in the Canyon Creek area. A groomed snowmobile trail runs along the Canyon Creek valley floor between Flower Point and the Skookaleel chutes. The trail begins in the North Fork area north of Columbia Falls and ends at the summit of Big Mountain.

Volunteers from the Flathead Nordic Backcountry Patrol and the two local search and rescue agencies were involved with the search Monday, while Two Bear Air was searching from above. Numerous other volunteers offered their services as well, Curry said, with over 30 ground searchers involved in Monday’s effort.

“They are still up there working,” Curry said at around 5 p.m. Monday. “At some point tonight, we’ll recover our searchers, get them a few hours of sleep and get back at it.”

Curry said they would continue the search until Torgerson was found.

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