The Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office has identified 33-year-old Erik Hefflefinger of Bend as the man who died in an avalanche Wednesday on Paulina Peak. This was the second avalanche fatality this year after a Bend man died at Black Crater a few weeks ago.
According to Central Oregon Avalanche Center forecaster Gabriel Coler, the avalanche forecast equipment on the mountain is incomplete.
“We have a wind sensor and temperature sensor,” said Coler.
These don’t provide enough information for an avalanche forecast, which is essential in helping backcountry athletes understand snow conditions.
“We are pretty oblivious on what’s going on out there,” said Coler. “It tends to be a little more dangerous than the Cascades.”
The Cascade Mountain Range has avalanche forecast capabilities.
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“Our forecast region is from maybe just south of Mount Bachelor all the way up to Three Fingered Jack, and we write a daily avalanche forecast for that zone,” said Coler.
Coler told us he believes most backcountry skiers use the forecast. So, the question is: why is there not a forecast for Paulina Peak?
“When a forecaster sits down at night and is going to write the avalanche forecast, they need to know: how much did it snow in all these different places, how much did the wind blow, what do the temperatures look like?” said Coler.
The piece they are missing at Paulina is a snow depth sensor. Without this, they don’t have a complete weather station.
“We couldn’t write an avalanche forecast without a weather station,” explains Coler.
The snow depth sensor is expected to be in place at Paulina Peak this summer.