‘Roofalanche’ becomes new problem for Jackson residents

By Cody Cottier

Jackson Hole Daily

Via Wyoming News Exchange

JACKSON — Dave Hodges was glad he didn’t park in the driveway.

When the sheriff’s deputy got home from work Wednesday evening, he made a last-minute decision to pull his squad car into an overflow lot in Melody Ranch, rather than next to his personal car.

He was walking toward the house when he heard what he could only describe as the roof cracking.

“I stopped, turned around, and there she went,” he said.

He could do little more than watch as a mass of snow, accumulated over months, roared off the garage and slammed into his Subaru Legacy with enough force to shove it into the adjacent parking space, “like it got T-boned.”

The extraordinary thing wasn’t the slide itself, but its intensity. Hodges was struck by the weight, velocity and distance it carried.

“The roof usually slides,” he said. “But I’ve never seen it slide with as much ferocity as it did that day.”

Had he been between the snow and the car, he reflected, “it could’ve been fatal.”

That’s what the Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center realized last weekend, when it began noting the potential for hazardous “roofalanches” in its daily advisories. At the tail end of winter, as slabs atop buildings begin to heat up, sketchy snow conditions aren’t a problem only for backcountry recreationists.

Avalanche Center Director Bob Comey said it’s not unheard of for forecasters to warn of this warm-weather phenomenon. But with the massive snowpack left behind after record-breaking storms in February, the stakes are higher than usual.

About the danger of roof slides he said: “They’re big and can kill you.”

The recent death of a 67-year-old Casper woman underscores the lurking threat of snow-loaded homes, along with another death and two injuries in Crested Butte earlier this month.

Accidents like these aren’t unique to this season, either. In 2018 a San Francisco woman and her 7-year-old son died in a roof slide at Kirkwood Mountain Resort, and closer to home in 2016, a 2-year-old girl suffered the same fate when a slide from a cabin roof near Island Park, Idaho, buried her.

Comey urged people to be aware of their surroundings, watch for cornices and overhanging snow, and keep an eye on children and pets. He also suggested people consider clearing their roofs or, better yet, hiring a professional to do it.

So far this winter, both deaths occurred while the victims were doing just that.

“There’s obviously a lot of snow still on roofs,” Comey said. “We’re just trying to give people a heads-up.”

Hodges had already raked off the lower portion of his garage, but apparently that wasn’t enough. It was the “quite deep,” out-of-reach upper half that slid, pummeling his Subaru but, fortunately, not his body. He’s thankful for his good luck.

As for the car, he unburied it to find the snow-ward side banged up from fender to fender. When he finally got the driver’s door open, it still ran alright. But it’s seen better days.

“I’ve owned that car for over 20 years and never even put a single dent in it,” he said. “Now it’s got plenty of dents.”