The weekend death of a Hailey resident on Bald Mountain will be ruled an accident after an autopsy found that Gregory Plowman died of asphyxiation following a likely snow immersion Friday morning, Twin Falls County Coroner Gene Turley confirmed on Monday.
Plowman, 66, died on Friday evening at St. Luke's Magic Valley Medical Center in Twin Falls after apparently falling headfirst into deep, loose snow on the at the ski area, Turley wrote in a Monday statement to the Idaho Mountain Express.
Plowman was found unresponsive around 10:25 a.m. Friday in the vicinity of Sunny Side Bowl, according to a statement from the Sun Valley Resort.
“Our theory is Mr. Plowman was skiing, at high speed, in knee-deep powder snow and snagged a ski which launched him in the air,” Turley stated. “He fell unconscious and died of asphyxiation.”
Plowman did suffer other injuries in the fall, Turley said, “but none were fatal.”
After extricating Plowman from the snow, Ski Patrol immediately initiated resuscitation efforts and transported the man to the base of River Run, where he was transferred to the Ketchum Fire Department, the resort said. The skier was then transported to St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center and later to the intensive care unit at St. Luke's Magic Valley, where he died, Turley said.
Turley confirmed Plowman's death to the Idaho Mountain Express Friday evening. At that time, next of kin had been notified, he said.
Plowman, a longtime Wood River Valley resident, served as the shop manager at Hailey-based ModernDesignGroup, according to the company's website. He becomes the second man to die this season after an incident on Bald Mountain. James “Jim” Brown, 53, of Deer Park, Ill., died from injuries suffered during an apparent collision with a tree in December.
While uncommon, non-avalanche snow immersions kill a handful of people in the U.S. each year, typically when a skier or boarder falls headfirst into a tree well or deep snow and is unable to pull themselves out.
“Prevention of snow immersion asphyxiation begins with skiers and snowboarders staying within the limits of their skills, using the proper tools for deep powder, staying in control at all times, and employing a buddy system,” doctor and mountaineer Christopher Van Tilburg wrote in the Journal of Wilderness and Environmental Medicine in 2010. “A skier or snowboarder who falls near or into a tree well should tuck, roll, and try to land upright, grab the tree trunk or a branch, and yell or blow a whistle to alert partners.”
Baldy received more than four feet of snow in the past week, more than doubling the resort's year-to-date snowpack.