LA PINE, OR -- A Bend snowboarder was killed in an avalanche on Paulina Peak Wednesday, east of La Pine. According to the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office, 33-year-old Erik Hefflefinger was carried over a cliff band by debris, and may have struck a tree during the fall.
Investigators say Hefflefinger and two friends used snowmobiles to access the area, then made their final approach - Hefflefinger on a snowboard and the other two on skis. The two skiers went down one side fo the slope and Hefflefinger followed on the other side. The avalanche started on his descent. All three were wearing safety equipment, including avalanche safety gear. Just before 1 p.m., the International Emergency Coordination Response Center notified DCSO of an SOS alarm from a device, and provided GPS coordinates. About 10 minutes later, one of the skiers notified the IERCC there was an avalanche and one person was not breathing; they were performing CPR.
DCSO Search and Rescue arrived via Airlink helicopter and reached Hefflefinger at 4 p.m. They took over life-saving efforts after discovering a faint pulse. At 5 p.m., it was determined he was "beyond help" and his body was transported to the 10-Mile Snow Park.
Avalanche Danger Persists
It’s the second time this month, a local avalanche has claimed a life. A Bend man was killed in a slide while skiing at Black Crater. Prior to March second, it had been nine years since DCSO last responded to an avalanche-related death.
"I think it’s probably a combination of factors, Gabriel Coler tells KBND News, "And, the most obvious factor that’s kind of undisputable, is just how many more people are in the backcountry." Coler is a forecaster with the Central Oregon Avalanche Center, which rates the current risk as Moderate (pictured), "We forecast avalanche danger for Central Oregon Cascades, which is a zone roughly from Mt. Bachelor up to Santiam Pass. We don’t currently forecast for Paulina Peak. That Moderate danger does not apply to Paulina Peak. None of our forecast team has been there recently to assess the danger."
Even for areas included in their forecast zone, Coler says skiers, snowmobilers and snowboarders need to heed warnings, "I think they often look at the danger rating and they just judge, ‘okay, what level is too scary for me?’ Or, ‘what level am I likely to get killed in?’ But it’s more specific than that. There’s actually advice that goes with each danger rating. And avalanches are possible under all of the danger ratings." He says an avalanche can occur on any snow-covered hill with a pitch between 30 and 45 degrees, "But, for a lot of people, that steepness - like a 35-degree slope - is a really fun slope to ride on. In the Venn Diagram of what is fun for some people and what is dangerous, there’s definitely a lot of overlap there."
For more information on the danger scale and avalanche risk, visit the Central Oregon Avalanche Center's website.