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Services set for La Pine avalanche victim


The La Pine community is mourning the loss of 28-year old Kyle Thomas, who was killed in an avalanche on Sunday afternoon, doing one of the things he loved most — snowmobiling at Paulina Peak.

Friends and family said Monday that Thomas was an experienced snowmobiler, even a snowmobile tour guide, and he knew the area better than anyone.

On Tuesday, the family said services are planned on Saturday from 2-4 p.m. at the La Pine Moose Lodge.

A fund has been established for the family at Bank of the Cascades under Kyle Thomas’s name. The family requested that in lieu of flowers, donations be sent to the Moose Lodge.

Around 12:30 p.m. Monday, Deschutes County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue crews headed to the area on snowmobiles to conduct snow surveys and assess the safety of the area. Paulina Peak is not closed at this point.

On Sunday around 3:30 p.m., Thomas and two other experienced riders were snowmobiling in open terrain near the Paulina Peak “play area” when an avalanche thundered toward them.

While Kyle’s friends were able to outrun the avalanche, he was buried beneath 3-5 feet of snow.

Thomas grew up on these slopes, but even his experience did not prevent the worst.

“You’re always learning,” Jon Tapper, director of the Central Oregon Avalanche Association, said Monday. “Especially traveling in the backcountry, the learning never stops.”

Experts estimated the slide was about 200 yards wide and 75-100 yards long.

It wasn’t the first deadly avalanche in the area.

Four years ago, a 28-year old La Pine man was killed by a similar avalanche near Paulina Peak.

In 2008, a skier from Bend had to be rescued in that same area, after triggering an avalanche.

Experts have noticed an increase in avalanches in Central Oregon over the last few years.

“We’ve had an unusual weather this year,” said Lt. Scott Shelton with the Deschutes Sheriff’s Office. “We have layers of snow on top of different layers of snow. And the situation created one that absolutely triggered the avalanche.”

Officials remind everyone to carry safety gear with you at all times when you’re traveling in the backcountry.

“Getting into the backcountry is a very hard thing to do,” Tapper said. “So when you have an incident you need to be able to rescue yourself and your friends.”

While Kyle and his friends were not carrying avalanche locator beacons, Shelton said they don’t know if carrying one could have saved his life. The sheer volume of the compressed snow, which becomes like concrete, may have killed Kyle on impact.

In a Facebook comment posted Monday, Kyle’s mother Karen Brown said:

“I have 3 beautiful children. However, I lost one yesterday. … Kyle was snowmobiling – what he loved most. I will miss my son so much. I loved him so very much. So please, all snowmobilers, be careful when you are out having fun.”

It’s a reminder for everyone to watch the conditions in the mountains, carry gear, including beacons and shovels — and never underestimate the awesome, sometimes tragic power of Mother Nature.

NewsChannel 21 talked to Karen Brown Monday, and we plan to have more information about Thomas later in the week, including details of any services.

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