WINTER SPORTS -- A family consumed by grief after a husband and father was killed by an avalanche in Montana last week got something to pick up their spirits:
Their dog, buried in the avalanche, surfaced and was found alive four days later.
Read on for the remarkable story from Brett French of the Billings Gazette.
By BRETT FRENCH
Assumed buried and dead in an avalanche on Saturday that killed one of his owners, an exhausted and hungry Welsh Corgi dog laid down on Wednesday in front of the same hotel room the family had occupied four days earlier. Somehow, the dog survived.
"The family is super excited," said Mark Staples of the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center, which investigated the incident. "It's one bright spot for them."
Robert Weinstein, owner of the Alpine Motel, spotted the dog around noon on Wednesday.
"I just saw it outside sitting by the room, which is pretty amazing," he said.
He fed it and began calling others to ensure that the dog was the one he assumed it to be.
"I wasn't 100 percent sure because I'd only seen it once or twice," he said.
The dog, named Ole, was with Dave Gaillard, 44, of Bozeman, who was buried by an avalanche while skiing with his wife, Kerry, on Saturday. The three were skiing along Hayden Creek, southeast of town, at an elevation of about 9,200 feet and just below Index Peak.
When the avalanche broke high atop the mountain, the terrain funneled most of the snow into the narrow creek drainage where Gaillard was skiing, filling it 12 to 14 feet deep with tightly packed snow. Kerry was on the edge of the avalanche, hanging on to a tree to avoid being swept away.
She told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle her husband's last thoughts were for her safety.
"His last words to me were, ‘Retreat to the trees.' I think he saw what was coming from above, that I did not see. That reflects Dave's amazing quality - thinking of others," she said.
Ole was assumed buried and killed in the same slide. Search and rescue personnel saw no sign of the animal when they returned. If that's true, the dog managed to dig its way out and then walk four miles on its stumpy legs all the way back to Cooke City in temperatures that were dipping into the teens at night.
Cooke city businessman Bill Whittle, who volunteered to drive the dog back to his family on Wednesday, said Ole appeared to be in good condition despite his ordeal.
"It's a miracle," Whittle said.
When he first approached the dog, Whittle said Ole was nervous and scared. But when he called the dog's name, Ole came right over.
"He was real hungry and thirsty. We fed him twice," Whittle said.
Whittle was a member of the search and rescue crew that helped retrieve Gaillard's body. He called the area a "bad spot" in "pretty difficult" terrain.
The event is made all the more amazing because Corgi's are not large dogs. On average, males stand only a foot tall and weigh around 27 pounds. They were bred short to avoid being kicked as they herded livestock. They are known for their feistiness, standing their ground when animals turn to confront them, even nipping livestock on the nose to assert dominance.
"How in the world he made it, I don't know," said Kay Whittle, Bill's wife. "If he could just talk.
"Who knows what he did from the day of the avalanche until today."
Last weekend was deadly for Montana recreationists. Heavy snowfall resulted in three avalanche deaths. In addition to Gaillard, Sidney resident Jody Ray Verhasselt, 46, was buried in an avalanche on a northeast-facing slope in Fisher Creek north of Cooke City on Saturday while snowmobiling. The third man killed was 20-year-old Jasen Kellogg of Butte. He was snowmobiling east of Red Lion, near Georgetown Lake, on Sunday when he was buried.
On Wednesday, the avalanche danger was still rated "considerable" in the mountains around Cooke City, as well as the Bridger, Madison and southern Gallatin Ranges and the Lionhead area near West Yellowstone, according to the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center. In the northern Gallatin Range the danger was rated moderate.
"Signs of instability are decreasing with every passing day, but dangerous avalanche conditions prevail," wrote Doug Chabot in the center's morning briefing.
Kay Whittle said the two avalanche deaths took a toll on the small mountain community since many of the residents respond in emergencies such as avalanches.
"It's been real rough," she said.
"We needed this," Bill Whittle said of Ole's survival. "It kind of cheered everyone up."