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Snowboarder dies in deep snow immersion at Mt. Baker Ski Area


Looking southwest from Mt. Baker Ski Area's chair 1. Ian Haupt photo

A Bellingham man died while snowboarding at Mt. Baker Ski Area December 10 in a deep snow immersion incident.

Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Deb Slater told Mount Baker Experience in an email the snowboarder was William Kamphausen, 44, of Bellingham. Mt. Baker Ski Area CEO Gwyn Howat said Kamphausen was found unresponsive in deep snow near the Panorama Dome in an extreme danger zone cliff area.

An unassociated group of riders saw a portion of a snowboard visible in the snow as they were navigating through the cliff area at approximately 11:15 a.m., Howat wrote in a statement. They found Kamphausen immersed in deep snow and unresponsive. The group began rescue efforts immediately and contacted Mt. Baker Ski Patrol.

Howat said Kamphausen appeared to be riding alone and was not reported missing to ski patrol before the group found him. Despite first aid, responders and ski patrol were unable to revive him, she said.

“Our heartfelt condolences go out to his friends and family for this loss as well as to our Mt. Baker community that he was a part of,” Howat wrote in a statement.

Howat said the accident was not an avalanche or tree well incident, but a deep snow immersion.

A tree well or snow immersion suffocation accident is when a skier or snowboarder falls – often headfirst – into a tree well or deep loose snow and becomes immobilized and trapped under the snow and suffocates, according to deepsnowsafety.org, an informative website put together by Howat and Northwest Avalanche Institute (NAI) director Paul Baugher. Twenty-eight percent of snow immersion suffocation fatalities were deep snow, while 67 percent were tree well, according to NAI numbers from U.S. ski areas between 2000 and 2015. The remaining 5 percent was unknown.

Below are tips to follow in the case of a snow immersion:

  • Yell or use whistle to get your partners attention.
  • Do whatever you can to keep your head above the surface of the snow including rolling, grabbing tree branches or the tree trunk. If possible, keep your feet below level of your head.
  • If you become immersed, make a space around your face and protect your airway – resist the urge to struggle, it could compromise your airspace and entrap you further.
  • Stay calm to conserve air.
  • Trust your partner is on their way.
  • If possible, use your cell phone to call ski patrol or the resort's emergency number.