Small avalanche near Etna Summit claims life of backcountry skier from Oregon
A backcountry skier from Ashland, Ore. died in a small avalanche near Etna Summit Wednesday afternoon despite the best efforts of a fellow skier who was able to unbury himself, locate 36-year-old Brook Golling under six feet of snow, and perform CPR for more than an hour before acknowledging it was futile.
Both Golling and his friend are experienced in the snowy backcountry, said Nick Meyers, director of the Mount Shasta Avalanche Center, who was part of the recovery team on Thursday. "They did everything right. They had their beacons, shovels and probes and knew how to use them."
Etna Summit is in the Russian Wilderness, west of Etna. Although it's not well known by skiers from out of the area, it is a go-to place for Scott Valley residents.
Meyers said the two men were near the tree line on Feb. 3 at the top of the slope they were intending to ride, transferring from "skinning up" to skiing down when the wind slab avalanche released.
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At its crown — the thickest part — the slab was two feet deep, Meyers said. The avalanche was 60 feet wide and slid about 150 feet down the slope, knocking both men off their feet.
Golling's companion was only partially buried. He was able to free himself, Meyers said, and worked quickly to unbury his friend, who was under about six feet of snow.
Although both men had checked their beacons in the parking lot before setting out, Meyers said the survivor's beacon may have malfunctioned when he first activated it, due to some corrosion in the battery compartment.
Nevertheless, the man began digging where he believed Golling was buried in a tree well. After about 25-30 minutes, he was successful.
"He performed CPR for about an hour and a half, but couldn't regain life," Meyers said. "For one person to recover someone in six feet of avalanche material is very difficult."
The surviving man was able to ski down the mountain and drive to Etna to call for help, prompting a multi-agency search. Golling's body was recovered on Thursday morning, Feb. 4.
The CHP-Northern Division Air Operations out of Redding assisted the Siskiyou County Sheriff's Office Search and Rescue Team in the mission. Because the situation involved an avalanche, SAR coordinator Mike Burns called Meyers for his expertise.
Meyers noted that Etna Summit is outside the MSAC's forecast area, but he went on the recovery mission to ensure the scene was secure and to perform an avalanche investigation report.
Meyers said avalanche danger in the Mt. Shasta area has been "moderate" above the tree line over the past few days, with the possibility of triggering old and new wind slab avalanches. He stressed the importance of anyone who recreates in the backcountry in the winter to have a beacon, shovel and probe, including snowshoers, skiers, and snowmobilers.
To check the avalanche forecast, go to https://www.shastaavalanche.org/.
• This story was corrected to indicate that Brook Golling was skiing, not snowboarding, as the original story stated.
Skye Kinkade is the editor of the Mt. Shasta Area Newspapers and the Siskiyou Daily News. She is a fourth generation Siskiyou County resident and has lived in Mount Shasta and Weed her entire life.