Avalanche takes conservationist David Gaillard while backcountry skiing near Cooke City

Friend, student and advocate for wolverine, lynx, fisher lost at age 44-

I first met Dave soon after he came to Montana. He stood out. He was the happy red-haired young man in tow with Louisa Willcox, long-time friend of the grizzly bears. As the years went by, as everyone expected he grew in knowledge and stature as a conservationist.

In my opinion, he died the proper way, though he was too young — covered by a blanket of white that had fallen off a shoulder of Mother Nature near a corner of Yellowstone Park.





  1. Daniel Berg Avatar
    Daniel Berg

    Do you know if he triggered the avalanche? It says that he was cross-country skiing….

  2. jdubya Avatar

    “In my opinion, he died the proper way,” Really? I don’t think dying in an avalanche is proper. Avalanche danger can be mitigated with prudence. We don’t need people dying from them every year as just part of the western landscape.

    1. Daniel Berg Avatar
      Daniel Berg

      There’s an interesting backpack out there now that inflates like an air-bag. It’s supposed to help keep you bouyant during the avalanche. I believe you can also get a bag equipped with an Avalung now. The bags can also leave enough room for your beacon, a shovel, and pole.


      1. jdubya Avatar

        Those are interesting. Kinda like water wings that you inflate from a C02 cartridge when all hell breaks loose. As the avalanche heads down hill the person bobs to the top like a whole potato chip in a sea of small, broken chips. I’ve seen films with such equipped body dummies.

        Problem is many, if not most, avalanche deaths are due to blunt force trauma (being tossed into the trees, etc) so an inflating backpack like this could give you a false sense of security and lead you to temp fate with the feeling of impunity.

        Without getting TOO preachy, avalanche deaths are avoidable if you pay attention to what you are doing, and when and where you are doing it.

        1. Nancy Avatar

          Tis the season Jdubya.

          There seems to be this insane, human need to get out there and test the limits, while at the same time, ignoring the red flags and the real potential for dangerous situations and death, due to avalanche areas.

          My local sourthwest Montana news station has made a point of mentioning the potential for slides just about every night for the last couple of weeks.

    2. Doryfun Avatar

      The article did say that the skier had triggered the avalanche. However, what constitutes a proper way to die is subjective.

      People take risks all the time. Specialy those who take to the outdoors and seek adventure. Even when warned of additional risks, people will continue to seek that edge, always pushing the envelope. Some pay more than others for doing so, knowing full well the potential consequences. Other times, tragedy befalls those who do all things right to reduce risk. No one knows when their time will be up. But,I know I would rather die doing that which I love doing, than some car wreck, being murdered, or such ugliness.

      The old saying that those who never do things because of their fear of dying, do not truely live, seems to speak to this tragic ski accident. At least he was doing what he really enjoyed and truely lived.

  3. Salle Avatar

    Wow. Sad. Haven’t seen him in years, my condolences to the family.

  4. Ken Cole Avatar

    I met him while touring the US Sheep Experiment Station. He was a really great guy and I enjoyed our conversations. Sad story.

    There are more details in this story: http://www.bozemandailychronicle.com/news/region/article_cb136726-35c1-11e1-a5e6-001871e3ce6c.html

  5. Elk275 Avatar

    I read this story in today’s Billings Gazette, it brought tears to my eyes and joy to my heart. Even the darkest times will give way to a ray of light. Ole dug him self out of the avalanche and walked back to Cooke City and now is reunited with Kerry and her children.


    I have known Ole since the first days that Kerry had him. Kerry calls hime “Ole the super dog”. He has live up and beyond that name. I am going over and give Ole a big hug this afternoon.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      Elk 275,

      What a wonderful sidebar to the sad story. Thanks!

    2. Salle Avatar

      That’s really impressive!

    3. skyrim Avatar

      I read that also. A very cool story.

    4. Mike Avatar


      Folks, there are things going on with animals we just don’t know about. Our tech is not there yet.

  6. Chris Sonderegger Avatar
    Chris Sonderegger

    I couldn’t agree more, Ralph. He did die the proper way – doing what he loved in one of the most beautiful places on the planet. I can only hope I’m so lucky!

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      Thanks Chris Sonderegger,

      And on a personal note, I would hope for the same for myself too.

  7. JohnR Avatar

    I’d rather die in the backcountry doing what I love, among beautiful scenary, than in a car accident, wasting away by cancer in a hospital bed, or of a heart attack. Prefer to be 100 years old tho.

  8. Elk275 Avatar

    Here is the latest about Ole, the “Super Dog” in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. From the article and the investigation it appears that Ole survived 4 days buried in the snow. I can not wait to see Ole this afternoon.


  9. Barb Rupers Avatar
    Barb Rupers

    Thanks for the link. A touching story.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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