Bozeman Daily Chronicle, January 2, 2004

Local skier found dead, buried in snow at Bridger

By KELLYN BROWN, Chronicle Staff Writer

Deep snow is being blamed for the death of a local skier whose body was found buried at Bridger Bowl Tuesday evening.

Michael D. Cavanna, 34, of Bozeman was skiing on an advanced run Sunday when he apparently went off a cliff, lost control and fell headfirst into the snow, according to a corner's report.

"The snow being very deep in the area restricted his efforts to free himself and he died as the result of positional asphyxia (a result of suffocation)," according to Gallatin County Coroner Duncan MacNab.

Bridger has received more than 100 inches of new snow since Christmas, so much that the resort was closed Saturday and part of Sunday so crews could dig out lifts and do avalanche-control work to make skiing safe.

When the mountain reopened Sunday afternoon, skiers were warned about the potentially dangerous conditions and told to ski in pairs, Bridger Bowl General Manager Terry Abelin said.

Cavanna's ski pass was swiped that day, but he was never seen again.

Two days later, on Tuesday afternoon, the Gallatin County sheriff's office received a phone call from a friend of Cavanna who had spotted Cavanna's car parked in Bridger's parking lot.

Bridger Bowl ski patrol then coordinated a search effort with Gallatin County Search and Rescue that evening.

More than 50 people combed the mountain for nearly four hours looking for Cavanna. Just before 10 p.m., one of the search parties heard a transceiver signal -- a personal-locating device Cavanna was wearing -- near Avalanche Gulch, an expert ski run near the upper region of the mountain in an area called The Nose.

A chair lift carries skiers up to that run, and Cavanna was found completely buried in snow.

"This is the first incident of this sort to ever happen at Bridger Bowl," Abelin said. "People shouldn't be afraid to come out here."

Cavanna was part owner of the Bar 3 Bar-B-Q on North Seventh Avenue in Bozeman.

The restaurant was closed Wednesday. Attempts by the Chronicle to reach employees there were unsuccessful. Cavanna's family apparently resides in Massachusetts.

A friend of Cavanna's, however, described him as a "great skier and a great guy."

"Everybody ( in Bozeman) knows Mike Cavanna," Ben Meager said Wednesday in a telephone interview. "He's a hilarious guy. He was just the life of every party."

Cavanna also was reportedly an "expert" skier, MacNab wrote in his coroner's report, and properly equipped Sunday to ski the advanced terrain.

A memorial service for Cavanna is scheduled for 11 a.m., Friday, at Holy Rosary Catholic Church.

Kellyn Brown is at kbrown@dailychronicle.com