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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Idaho doctor, accomplished outdoorsman, dies in avalanche while skiing Lost River Range

By Nicole Blanchard The Idaho Statesman

BOISE – An Idaho emergency physician and adventurous outdoorsman died Friday after being buried in an avalanche while skiing part of the state’s tallest mountain range.

Dr. Terrence “Terry” O’Connor, 48, of Ketchum, was skiing on Donaldson Peak in the Lost River Range when he triggered an avalanche at around 11,600 feet elevation. According to the Sawtooth Avalanche Center’s description of the incident, O’Connor was caught in a small avalanche that carried him downhill, burying him in the snow. The first avalanche triggered a second, larger avalanche.

The Sawtooth Avalanche Center said O’Connor’s skiing partner, who has not been identified publicly, called for help on a satellite communication device before using a transceiver device to locate O’Connor in the snow. She dug O’Connor out of several feet of snow and performed CPR before search and rescue arrived.

O’Connor is the third person to die in an avalanche in Idaho this year, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

O’Connor worked as an emergency room physician at the St. Luke’s Wood River Valley location in Hailey. He was frequently a source of information and encouragement during the COVID-19 pandemic, which hit Blaine County hard when the coronavirus first came to Idaho. Later, he applauded the community for having some of the highest vaccination rates in the country.

In a statement provided to the Idaho Statesman, Almita Nunnelee, chief operating officer and chief nursing officer at St. Luke’s Wood River, said the hospital is “devastated” by O’Connor’s death.

“His passion for medicine and unwavering commitment to patients in this community touched so many of us,” Nunnelee said. “Terry was not only a skilled physician but also a kind and compassionate individual whose presence brightened the lives of everyone fortunate enough to know him.”

O’Connor was also a fellow of the American College of Emergency Physicians, a former Blaine County/Sawtooth Regional Emergency Medical Services director and member of the Idaho EMS Physician Commission.

“Terry was an outstanding physician and played a pivotal role in the early days of the COVID pandemic, really demonstrating the public health role of the EMS medical director within a community,” the Idaho EMS Physician Commission said in a Facebook post Saturday. “His loss will be missed not only in the valley itself but throughout the entire state and region.”

O’Connor was active in wilderness emergency medicine and held a Diploma in Mountain Medicine from the Wilderness Medical Society.

“Words cannot begin to express the kindness he bestowed, sacrifices he made, and the impact he had on the emergency and wilderness medicine communities he was a part of,” the Wilderness Medical Society said in a Facebook post.

He volunteered as a clinical faculty member teaching wilderness and environmental medicine at the University of Colorado’s Department of Emergency Medicine. He also oversaw the University of Colorado’s diploma program in climate medicine, which teaches clinicians how to address the health implications of climate change.

O’Connor was an experienced backcountry skier, runner and mountain climber, among other activities. He even wrote a blog post for University of Colorado on avalanche safety. A St. Luke’s article on O’Connor detailed his trips climbing Mt. Everest and his TEDx Talk on outdoor adventure, which reflected on the inherent dangers in many of the activities he loved. In it, he memorialized a close friend and climbing partner who died in an avalanche in the Canadian Rocky Mountains in 2006.

St. Luke’s also noted O’Connor’s work in countries like Nepal and India, where he traveled to provide medical care to people in need.