Men killed in Ore. slide ID’d as ski guide, client
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- A backcountry ski guide and his client were identified Thursday as the people killed in an Eastern Oregon avalanche, while two of their companions who were rescued were recovering at a hospital after suffering broken bones and then spending more than 24 hours stranded on a snowy slope.
Baker County Undersheriff Warren Thompson said the bodies of Shane Coulter, 30, of Seattle and Jake Merrill, a 23-year-old guide from Bellingham, Wash., remained on the mountain because the avalanche risk was too great for recovery teams.
The avalanche struck Tuesday as a party of six experienced skiers from Washington state and two guides was on its third day of a five-day trek through the backcountry of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.
It took rescuers all day Wednesday to get the injured man and woman off the mountain amid heavy snow and poor visibility.
Thompson said the two were conscious before they were flown to St. Mary Medical Center in Walla Walla, Wash. The seriously injured woman, Susan Polizzi, 60, of Wenatchee, Wash., suffered two broken legs and a broken arm, while the man, Bruno Bachinger, 40, of Snohomish, Wash., had a broken thigh bone.
Kathleen Obenland, a hospital spokeswoman, said the two remained hospitalized Thursday in satisfactory condition.
The other four members of the party escaped injury and safely left the mountain. The sheriffs identified the skiers, all from Seattle, as Allen Ponio, 36; Raymon Pinney, 32; and Quinton Dowling, 26. The second guide, Chris Edwards-Hill, of Enterprise, Ore., assisted three other guides from Wallowa Alpine Huts who came to rescue of the victims.
The website for the Mount Baker Mountain Guides says Merrill was a "true Pacific Northwest local" who guided backcountry ski and mountaineering trips while studying at Western Washington University.
"Promising young guide"
"On Tuesday, we lost a promising young guide and a wonderful man to an avalanche in the Wallowa Mountains of Northeast Oregon," the group posted on its Facebook feed. "Rest in Peace, Jake Merrill."
Avalanche risk has been high in the West after heavy snow intruded on a relatively dry winter. The deaths brought to 12 the number of people killed in avalanches nationally this season, including six in the West since Sunday.
A skier suffered minor injuries Thursday after being partially buried by an avalanche outside the boundaries of Sun Valley Resort in south-central Idaho. Officials said human-triggered avalanches were likely on wind-loaded slopes in the area.
The Oregon avalanche occurred in the southern part of the Wallowa Mountains, near Idaho. The Wallowa Avalanche Center warned a week ago that a foot or more of new snow was not bonding with old snow, and there was a report in the southern Wallowas that a skier had triggered a small slide and more were possible.
Follow Steven DuBois at http://www.twitter.com/pdxdub. Tim Fought in Portland and Jeff Barnard in Grants Pass, Ore., also contributed to this report.
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