Big Wally revived after avalanche

By Jim Stanford on January 6, 2010

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The slide began just below Rendezvous Trail and ran the length of Cheyenne Bowl. The crown measured 3.5 feet. JHMR photo.

Jackson Hole ski patroller Mark “Big Wally” Wolling is fighting for his life following an avalanche in Cheyenne Bowl this morning.

Big Wally

Wolling was doing avalanche control work when the slide occurred at about 8:30 a.m. He detonated one bomb to the skier’s right of Cheyenne Gully with no result.

He then set off two more hand charges on the edge of the cliff band, and their explosion caused the slope to fail above him and his partner, resort officials said.

The partner managed to self-arrest by grabbing a tree, but Wolling was swept over the cliff and carried several hundred feet to a flat area opposite Bivouac Woods.

Patrollers located him with a transceiver and dug him out in about eight to 10 minutes, Patrol Director Jake Elkins said. Wolling was buried beneath six feet of debris. He was not breathing and had no detectable pulse. Patrollers performed CPR and used an AED, which found no shockable rhythm.

However, after Wolling was transported to the Teton Village Clinic, about 14 minutes later, doctors detected a pulse. He was taken by ambulance to St. John’s Medical Center in Jackson and may be flown out for care.

The slide carried the patroller over this cliff to the bottom of Cheyenne Bowl.

A 20-year veteran of the patrol, Wolling, 58, is a beloved figure in the community, having hosted the annual Goatstock party in Wilson for years. Last fall the event benefited Jimmy Zell, a skier crippled by injury and illness.

If anyone can pull out of this, it’s Big Wally.

Wolling survived a paragliding crash on Snow King Mountain about 10 or 12 years ago and in 2004 dodged a grizzly bear attack on Togwotee Pass.

Asked whether staff were encouraged when Wolling’s pulse revived at the clinic, Elkins called it a “positive sign.” Tim Mason, resort VP of operations, said, “Any glimmer of hope is better than nothing.”

Update: The News&Guide reports that Wolling has been flown to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center in Idaho Falls for treatment.

Roses placed at the top of the fracture line in Cheyenne Bowl.


Posted under Ski Resorts

12 Comments so far

  1. Ken Willis January 6, 2010 1:09 pm

    Here’s hoping Big Wally has several lives left in him. I think he does.

  2. js January 6, 2010 3:29 pm

    To clarify, ski patrol has been controlling this area of Cheyenne Bowl for weeks, but there had been no major slide activity. The northeast-facing slope is located to the skier’s right of Cheyenne Gully/Central Chute, visible from the edge of Rendezvous Trail. It has not been open to the public.

    The slope failed after Wolling bombed it once and he and a partner ski cut it. They had skied down to the edge of the cliff band and set two more charges, which brought the slope down on top of them.

    Resort President Jerry Blann, VP of Operations Tim Mason and Patrol Director Jake Elkins gave this information during a noon press conference.

    The resort gave additional information in a 4 p.m. press release:

      Length of Avalanche Path – Approx: 1000 feet

      Crown Height (Max): 42 inches. 3.5 feet

      Crown Length: 130 feet wide

      Avy Classification (1-5): R3D3

      Cliff Band Height: 25-30 feet

      Slope Angle: 34 Degrees

    Backcountry skiers, there are some slopes we may not be able to ski this season until spring.

  3. jannine fitzgerald January 6, 2010 6:24 pm

    We are all pulling for you Big Wally here at Fitzy’s! Hang in there.

  4. jay pistono January 6, 2010 6:36 pm

    big wally deserves all of our good vibe and from what i read of the report i don’t think anyone of us could have seen this coming- thanks so much for the call from the trolllers to spread the heads up to skiers,etc. riding the pass today- we never what little bit of information puts us on the positive side of walking away from our day in the mountains- jay pistono

  5. kg January 6, 2010 8:56 pm

    TO The Big guy god bless your speedy recovery and hope all is well!!!!!!!!
    Kg (steak house chef)

  6. JSweet January 7, 2010 1:02 pm

    God be with Mark.

  7. js January 7, 2010 3:31 pm

    Big Wally’s family has created a page for updates. (You must register, but it’s easy.)

    The latest post has some cause for optimism.

  8. Tom Burlingame January 8, 2010 5:26 pm

    I’m so sorry to hear about Mark. I really hope he pulls through. It just goes to show….

  9. david chapman January 9, 2010 12:50 pm

    I like to think that good things can come out of bad, i think it is time to realize that more needs to be done to protect the patrollers when they are out doing Avalanche control. Maybe accidents like Mark (Big Wally) Wolling’s can heighten our awareness that there are some measures which haven’t been taken that may give a patroller caught in an event a better chance of surviving it.

    Police wouldn’t consider going into a possible shoot out without a bullet proof vest nor would a fireman consider going into a burning building without his protection and life supporting equipment. Then why should our patrollers got out into harms way without similar safety equipment.

    When i think of Ski Patrols i think of safety first, they are the the mountain avalanche controllers, policeman and paramedics all wrapped up into one job description,

    I live outside of the community but have many friends that do live in Jackson, i think that a fundraiser to purchase shoulder sling Avalungs and ABS float bag systems for the patrollers while they are out doing mountain control needs to be initiated.

    These patrollers put themselves in harms way for us to make the mountain more secure for all of us to enjoy, they need not be the victims in doing so. Yes these life saving systems do not guaranty a 100% survival if caught up in an event, but they do offer some sort of % over not having one at all.

    I can contact certain people in the Jackson community to help me do this, but if anyone wishes to organize this and believes in it as i do, please do.

    I would like to hear your ideas and suggestions, at minimal 30 sling type Avalungs could probably be purchased for under $3,000.


  10. d January 9, 2010 6:01 pm

    I fully support safety but I fear u can’t beat the mtn all the time sometimes freak stuff happens. Its to bad but all the gimics in the world won’t stop them. You have to be as safe as possiable and I bet if anyone knew that Mtn it was him it just sucks

  11. km January 9, 2010 9:11 pm

    chappy does not live in the community.Has he a full understanding of the reality of a patrollers duties? What is his job? Shall I judge him or his occupation?I think not. So, legislate personal choice and responsibility till the the ends of life as we know it. Be safe, stay home.

  12. km January 10, 2010 6:52 am

    I apologize for my previous comment

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