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To get out of his head, Fred Allendorf walks.

He walks in the Bitterroot or the Rattlesnake, where he often gets the urge to visit the place where he once lived -- a two-story home at the base of Mount Jumbo.

He watches the prayer flags flutter in the wind above the empty lot he knew as a place of refuge for more than 20 years.

“When I first started going back to the house, it was almost as if part of me felt it’d still be there,” Allendorf said. “It never was.”

Feb. 28, 2015, marks the one-year anniversary of the Mount Jumbo avalanche that jolted the Missoula community and buried three people.

Phoenix Scoles Coburn, 8, escaped without major injuries, while Allendorf and his wife, Michel Colville, were carried to the hospital in critical condition.

Colville, 68, passed away at the hospital. Allendorf was released three weeks later.

A year later, Allendorf is working to move on from the tragedy, while friends and community members do what they can to honor the victims of the avalanche and celebrate the sense of community that is still evident.


While a blizzard raged outside their window, Allendorf and his wife sat side by side in the living room.

It was a normal Friday afternoon, when suddenly Allendorf found himself buried in the snow, trapped.

“The chimney pinned me down,” Allendorf said. “It broke 17 ribs, cracked my sternum, broke three vertebrae, and my left foot. But it also saved me.”

Colville was swept 25 yards away. At first, Allendorf yelled for her, but he quickly realized he was wasting his breath.

For the next two hours, Allendorf waited in silence.

On the surface, Winsor Lowe felt anxious. Lowe, a friend of Allendorf for 20 years, arrived within 15 minutes of the avalanche. He could hardly wrap his mind around the situation.

“The level of destruction was hard to understand, or grasp,” Lowe said. “Just the way the whole house had been scattered and smeared across the road.”

While the rescue crew assessed the safety of the situation, Lowe and other friends of Allendorf could do nothing but wait. It was then they thought the worst, Lowe said.

“From the very start, we were worried we wouldn’t be able to find him,” Lowe said. “Or we’d find him dead.”

Shortly after, they began to dig.

Still trapped, Allendorf found a strange peace. He didn’t know if anyone was looking for him, and while a part of him hoped they were, another was equally content if they didn’t.

“I remember thinking either I’m going to freeze to death, I’m going to suffocate or they’re going to find me,” Allendorf said. “I didn’t really care which one happened. I just knew one of those three would.”

Eventually, he started to hear the faint sounds of first-responders. The noise would come in waves, repeatedly growing louder and then fading away, he said. Finally, it stopped retreating.

Allendorf said he only had two thoughts when they pulled him out: “What happened?” and “What about my wife?”

Colville was still buried at the time. The rescue crew found her unconscious an hour later.

She never woke up.


Allendorf got to see his wife twice in the hospital. It was difficult to move him with 17 broken ribs, he said, but they got him into her wing in a wheelchair.

The doctors planned to operate on Colville the Sunday after the avalanche, but they told Allendorf she wouldn’t survive the operation.

“Then a few hours later, they told me it was time to go see her,” he said. “She wasn’t going to last much longer.”

After Colville’s passing, Allendorf had another three weeks in the hospital, followed by a fourth in a recovery home that he called “The House of Pain.” It was there he recovered from extensive injuries caused by the chimney.

Allendorf stayed with his daughter in Wisconsin for a few months and returned to Missoula last June.

For now, he rents a home while the owner is away on sabbatical. When the owner returns in June, Allendorf said he is not sure where he’ll end up.

He said he doesn’t think it’ll be near Mount Jumbo.

While living in his home at the base of the mountain, an avalanche didn’t cross Allendorf’s mind. In retrospect, he said it’s easy to see why an avalanche would occur there.

“I’ve been unhappy with certain people in the city of Missoula who don’t seem to recognize that it wasn’t just a random event,” Allendorf said.

He said his house was situated in a very dangerous area, which he didn’t know prior to the avalanche.

Allendorf’s home was located beneath a bowl in the mountain, where snow collected. A gully led from the bowl straight to his backyard. He said if the conditions were right, he doesn't doubt that another avalanche could happen in the same place.

Allendorf hasn’t had any contact with the snowboarder and sledders who, according to a police report, caused the Mount Jumbo avalanche.

But Allendorf said he has no hard feelings.

“My impression is after the avalanche, he came down and told people he’d started it, was open about it,” Allendorf said. “It wasn’t like he ran away and tried to pretend it didn’t happen. I don’t blame him at all.”

The snowboarder who triggered the avalanche, according to the police report, declined to comment. He said his lawyer asked him not to talk to the media for three years, until he is protected by the statute of limitations and prosecutors cannot press charges.


Tarn Ream found out about the avalanche after a news organization misreported the location as her address and a friend called to check on her.

Ream ran a block to the avalanche site to start searching for people who were buried.

After three people were found in the search effort, Ream found herself drawn back to the site of the avalanche. When she returned, she found several of her friends and neighbors who were digging in an enormous amount of snow to recover strewn belongings.

“I just sort of stood there and my heart just sort of dropped,” she said. “I started helping them.”

Ream did an interview only to put out the call for volunteers, and she ended up being a point of contact and leading the organization of volunteers.

She created a Facebook page so people in the community knew when the site cleanup was, to help victims get housing, and purchase items like sandbags to control flooding. In addition, businesses donated equipment, a storage space and food to sustain volunteers.

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“There’s a sense of community catharsis that goes on when people are really just rolling up their sleeves and doing work,” Ream said. “To achieve something that is bigger than all of us.”

Katrina Johnson, a volunteer and professional filmmaker, was heartbroken when she heard of Colville’s passing. Although she’d never met the family, she was struck by the tragedy and dealt with the sadness by offering to help with the cleanup.

She saw someone struggling to pull something out of the snow, so she got down on her hands and knees to help him retrieve a piece of artwork. The young man turned out to be Colville’s son.

He told Johnson he could tell it was his mom’s last artwork because it still had pins in it.

Johnson felt like she needed to pass on Colville’s memory, so she created a documentary called "Amplify Kindness."

The 28-minute film shows how the people affected, including the entire Missoula community, felt the ripple effect of kindness in the aftermath of a tragedy.

The movie premieres at 5 p.m. this today at the Roxy Theater.

Carel Schneider, a close friend of Colville’s, said the film not only honors the memory of Colville, but also takes the time to thank the supportive community.

“There’s no real way to say thank you, except to show the movie and say they’re really appreciated by the family, by the entire town,” Schneider said.

Additionally, Schneider will show a few pieces of Colville’s art at the premiere. Colville dabbled in a bit of everything, she said, but her love was in functional fabric art. She hopes to one day display Colville’s work in the Missoula Art Museum.

“Michel really loved art,” Allendorf said. “She did it because it was beautiful.”

But Allendorf said he won’t attend the movie screening.

“It would just be too emotional, especially with all those people there,” he said.


Although physically Allendorf's wounds have healed, some days are still very tough emotionally.

“It’s been hard for me to predict what is difficult and what is easy,” Allendorf said.

One of the toughest things, he said, has been going through some of the belongings volunteers recovered from the site.

A local meat processing company took in Allendorf’s snow-damaged books and journals to freeze and preserve them. The week of Feb. 16, 2015, he picked them up after leaving them in storage for almost a year, having been too afraid to face them before.

“The books were easy to ignore, they just sat in a freezer,” Allendorf said. “After a year, I have to deal with some of these issues.”

The afternoon of Feb. 24, Allendorf sat down with a friend to rummage through his personal journals -- a stack of around 90.

He’d been keeping these journals for almost 40 years, and had about 120 at the time of the avalanche, but not all survived, he said.

Still, he’s thankful that the community put so much effort into saving what they could.

On today's anniversary of the avalanche, Allendorf will be surrounded by friends. He plans to go on a hike and have a potluck with some of the people who helped dig on the day of the avalanche, and friends who spent countless hours in the hospital with him and his wife.


Taylor Wyllie and Erin Loranger are journalism students at the University of Montana. This story originally appeared in the Montana Kaimin on Feb. 27, 2015. To view part one of the Kaimin's series on the Mount Jumbo avalanche, or watch videos of the coverage, go online to or follow the Kaimin on Twitter @MontanaKaimin.

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