Journal of the San Juan Islands


Avalanche claims life of Friday Harbor grad

February 13, 2014 · Updated 8:56 AM

Friday Harbor graduate, Shane Coulter. / Journal file photo

A former Friday Harbor High School student was one of two people killed when an avalanche struck a backcountry ski party in Oregon's Wallowa Mountains, Tuesday, Feb. 11.

Thirty-year-old Shane Coulter, a 2001 graduate of Friday Harbor High, was one of two killed in the avalanche, according to Baker City Herald. Jake Merrill of Bellingham, 23, a ski guide employed by Joseph, Ore.-based Wallowa Alpine Huts, was also killed in the avalanche.

"He was a great kid," former Friday Harbor principal Ralph Hahn said of Coulter, a three-sport high school athlete and captain of the Wolverines soccer team his senior year. "Just a great, genuinely nice kid."

A resident of Seattle, Coulter was an aeronautical engineer, a career he aspired to in high school, and employed by Boeing, Hahn said. Coulter is the son of Terry Coulter, former business manager of San Juan Island School District, who died several years ago, and of Chris Coulter, formerly of Friday Harbor.

"My understanding is Shane got an engineering degree and was doing very well with Boeing," Hahn said.

Located just east of the Blue Mountains, the former home of the Nez Pearce, the Wallowas are sometimes referred to as "Little Switzerland," or the "Alps of Oregon," and are a popular destination with backcountry skiers.

Merrill was one of two guides leading a group of six skiers on a multi-day trip through the backcountry of the Wallowa Mountains, east of La Grande, in the northeastern corner of Oregon. The other guide and three skiers, all of Seattle, escaped uninjured.

Two other skiers injured in the avalanche, a 40-year-old Snohomish man and 60-year-old Wenatchee woman, were rescued late the following day and airlifted by helicopter to a hospital in Walla Walla, Wash.

— Scott Rasmussen



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