As more avalanches fell, Kittitas County team fought to find friend buried in snow

Local sheriff, WSP trooper remember avalanche victim Steve Houle

CLE ELUM, Wash. — More than 20 search and rescue personnel with avalanche dogs and a thermal-imaging drone never gave up an effort to pull Steve Houle from the snow that overtook him Monday — not even as several more avalanches rumbled nearby.

The Kittitas County sheriff and a Washington State Patrol trooper — both personal friends of Houle, 51 — explain what happened and the type of man he was.

Avalanche victim Steve Houle Wsp

Steve Houle (Courtesy: WSP)

“An avid outdoorsman like a lot of folks up here,” said Trooper John Bryant. “Snowmobiling — he had a special bike for the snow.”

“Snow machines — the motorcycles with the tracks on them,” said Kittitas County Sheriff Clay Myers, whose deputies spearheaded the search.

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“Doing what he loved, being outdoors,” explained Bryant.

“With his good friend Oscar Selzler, they got caught in an avalanche on the ridge between Lake Kachess and Lake Cle Elum. Oscar was able to dig himself out but he was unable to find Steve. He was able to free his bike, ride down and notify us.”

Kittitas County Search and Rescue headed up to the high country to help. They reported additional avalanches in the area while conducting the search operation that became a recovery mission.

“Pretty unstable up there. At 7 o’clock, they reported that they had located him,” the sheriff said. “We don’t know what triggered the avalanche. There were different additional avalanches while our team was up there and there was nobody triggering those.”

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“It’s tough to hear, you know. Steve — you just can’t believe that you’re not gonna see Steve Houle again. He’s just he’s a fixture around here. Those of us who know him, it hurts and we feel really, really bad for his family — his wife and his children,” Bryant said.

“It’s a community loss. Kittitas County lost one of its guardians. He’s gonna be missed,” said Sheriff Myers.

Steve Houle was the 22nd person in the U.S. to die in an avalanche this winter.