How a Backcountry Avalanche Turned Deadly on Siskiyou’s Mt. Etna

Photo: Mike Burns/ Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue Team)

The tragic death of a skier in Siskiyou County rocked the outdoor community this week, a stark reminder of the dangers of backcountry sports.

On February 3, 35-year-old Brook Golling and 37-year-old Ben Koerber traveled from Ashland, Oregon to the Etna area for a powder day in the backcountry, and they were fully prepared for their surroundings. Both had years of backcountry experience and brought with them a beacon, shovel and probe. In the parking lot, the two performed a test of their beacon, showing it was in fine working order.

The area had received multiple feet of snow in the week before. A large storm slammed the area in late-January, followed by a smaller storm in early February. With clear skies above, it was touted as perfect backcountry ski day.

Around 2 pm, the skier and snowboarder arrived at their intended descent route below a ridge line and were preparing to transition to ski/board when the avalanche occurred. The D2 size avalanche violently pushed them down the hill into the trees.

Evidence of the avalanche on Mount Etna

Koerber was partially buried down the hill, eventually able to emerge from the snow and immediately search for Golling. He immediately grabbed his avalanche beacon to prepare to search, but it malfunctioned due to a corroded battery compartment. He went to the area of the burial and began to dig, finding an exposed ski pole sticking up out of the snow. After locating Golling and digging him out of 6 feet of snow, Koerber performed CPR for over an hour. He was unable to revive his backcountry partner.

Golling leaves behind his wife and young son.

Brook Golling

After hiking back down to the car, Koerber was able to call 911 to alert authorities of the incident. It was already dark and a mission to recover Golling’s body was pushed until the next day. They found the body on the morning of February 4.

While the area is not unfamiliar with snow slides, Mount Shasta has not experienced an avalanche-related fatality since the late-1980’s. With the growing popularity of backcountry sports, avalanche deaths in the United States have steadily increased over the past 50 years.

Active NorCal

Northern California's Outdoor Digital Newsmagazine

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