Idaho doctor killed after triggering avalanche while backcountry skiing, report says

A prominent Idaho emergency room doctor, known as an experienced backcountry skier, was killed after he triggered an avalanche while skiing Friday, a preliminary report found.

Two experienced backcountry skiers were traveling on Donaldson Peak in Idaho’s Lost River Range on Friday when one of the skiers died after being buried by an avalanche, the Sawtooth Avalanche Center and Colorado Avalanche Information Center said in the report published Saturday. The skier was identified by the Custer County Coroner’s Office as Dr. Terrence “Terry” O’Connor, 48, the Idaho Mountain Express reported.

The accident occurred around 11:55 a.m., according to the report. The two skiers were climbing down to their ski descent when O’Connor “triggered and was caught in a small wind slab avalanche,” the report said.

The slide then carried O’Connor downhill, causing a second and larger avalanche, the report added. O’Connor’s skiing partner, who was not identified, used a satellite communication device to call for help before skiing down the avalanche path to locate O’Connor.

The skiing partner was able to find O’Connor with her rescue transceiver and probe pole, according to the report. O’Connor was buried under at least 5 feet of snow.

She dug him out of the snow with a shovel and began CPR, the report added. Search and rescue teams responded and evacuated O’Connor, but he did not survive the accident.

Friday’s accident is the latest avalanche fatality in the United States. According to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, dozens of avalanche fatalities occur each year, mostly involving backcountry skiers, snowboarders, and snowmobilers.

As of Sunday, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center said there have been 16 avalanche fatalities, including 10 skiers, for the 2023-2024 winter season. There was a total of 30 avalanche fatalities during the previous season.

Snow sports come with risks:Avalanches are a reminder of the dangers of snow sports

Victim remembered as an ‘outstanding physician’

O’Connor was a physician at St. Luke’s Wood River Emergency Department in Ketchum, Idaho, according to the hospital’s website. The Idaho EMS Physician Commission confirmed O’Connor’s death in a statement posted Saturday on Facebook.

“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 commission said. “His loss will be missed not only in the valley itself but throughout the entire state and region.”

In a blog post from 2021, the hospital noted O’Connor’s commitment to the Wood River Valley community during the coronavirus pandemic. He was also a principal investigator of a COVID-19 study about new variants and immune response to the virus.

Outside of his work, O’Connor had also been a bike tour guide, a ski patroller, a National Park Service climbing ranger, an ultramarathon, and a backcountry skier, according to the blog post.

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