The search for a skier who has been missing in the backcountry near Whitefish Mountain Resort for 10 days was resumed Tuesday after a winter storm stymied efforts on Sunday.
Bolstered by teams from Lewis and Clark and Gallatin counties, about 90 people joined the search last weekend for 62-year-old Columbia Falls physician Jonathan Torgerson. Torgerson was last seen Feb. 17 and is believed to have been skiing alone in the backcountry near the Flower Point area.
Despite the massive search effort, Flathead County Sheriff Chuck Curry said no signs of Torgerson were found and that crews were hindered on Sunday by a snowstorm.
Curry said the search was temporarily called off after heavy snowfall created dangerous avalanche-like conditions. He said searchers on skis were sloughing snow down the mountain on their final run, a dangerous confirmation of the decision to pull out for the day.
Curry said that with the additional resources over the weekend, around 80 people were deployed on skis and another 10 people were surveying the area from snowmobiles.
On Monday the search and rescue teams from other counties returned home.
Curry said many of them are volunteers and had jobs to get back to. Curry also halted the effort Monday to give searchers a needed rest day.
“They were getting pretty tired after eight days straight,” Curry said.
He said if the weather calmed down the local search teams would be redeployed Tuesday morning.
Approximately 2 feet of new snow has fallen on Big Mountain in the last week, which Curry said would make the search more difficult but not drastically change the way it was being performed.
He said the search had evolved to the point where it was a methodical, tree-by-tree examination of an area between 350 and 400 acres in size. About 150 inches of settled snow is covering the terrain.
“We’ve covered, at least in some degree, almost all of it,” Curry said. “In the science of search and rescue, you start to talk about probability of detection. You can have people search an area, but did you truly search every tree? We’ve covered probably 400 acres easily, but then you have to really look at how well was that covered.”
Curry said that after a skier completes a run down the mountain searching a given area, they are taking care to understand precisely how well each section of the territory was searched and using that information to guide future efforts. He said they have had some of the best minds in search and rescue science from the state on the mountain this week, and that expertise continued to guide their efforts.
“We’ll keep at it,” he said.