Idaho Mom of 3 Who Lost Husband in Avalanche While Snowmobiling with Friends Speaks Out
"I'm determined to do whatever I can to keep another family from going through what my family has gone through," Summer Andersen tells PEOPLE
It was an hour after nightfall, but Summer Andersen didn’t feel there was reason to worry. Her husband, Adam, who had gone snowmobiling late in the day on January 10 with two friends in Island Park, Idaho, was probably just having dinner in a warm lodge somewhere, she thought.
But then, after a few more hours had ticked past and her two youngest children had been put to bed, she learned on Facebook that there had been an avalanche in the area, and decided that she’d better check in with Adam. After repeated calls went unanswered, her phone rang with a call from her husband’s best friend, and Summer knew immediately that the news would be bad.
“As soon as he said my name, I knew that our lives would never be the same and that Adam wasn’t coming home,” the 31-year-old homemaker from Idaho Falls, tells PEOPLE.
“That night was the most awful moment of my life,” she says, “but I’m determined not to live a sad life, and I’m determined to do whatever I can to keep another family from going through what my family has gone through. I know it’s what Adam would want me to do.”
This week, Summer launched the Adam Andersen Avalanche Project, hoping to raise awareness about avalanche danger and encourage outdoor snow enthusiasts not to venture into the backcountry without appropriate safety gear.
Like many people, Adam, 36, didn’t want to invest in more than $1,000 worth of equipment such as a beacon, airbag, shovel and helmet to use for a couple of snowmobile runs.
“Because it’s so expensive, you can understand why riders say, ‘I’m not going to spend that kind of money to go out two or three times a year,” says Summer, “but then, on the other hand, what is your life worth? A lot of people have died in avalanches who could have been saved with the proper gear. To me, there’s no reason why people should be riding or skiing or snowshoeing without it.”
Teaming up with her former employer, Action Motor Sports in Idaho Falls, Summer is now raising funds at AdamAnderson.org to buy avalanche safety equipment for people in her community to rent for free every winter when they head into high-risk areas. Thus far, more than $4,000 has been donated to the effort.
“I’d also like to get some warning signs put up to alert people to the dangers,” she tells PEOPLE, “and I’d like to see some kind of system put in place where people can check the weather conditions and find out if there are avalanche warnings. There was nothing like that for Adam to look at before he went to Island Park that day.”
It was late on a Wednesday afternoon seven weeks ago when Adam, who was a regional manager for a trucking company, decided to go snowmobiling in the Mt. Jefferson area of Island Park — a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts near Yellowstone National Park.
“He’d just come home from work and I asked him, ‘Do you really want to go? It’s kind of late,’ ” says Summer, “and he just said, ‘We’ll be fine.’ It honestly seemed like any other day. Adam loved the outdoors and was always looking for a reason to go out and have fun.”
Her husband enjoyed nothing more than spending time hiking, fishing, camping, kayaking or playing in the snow with friends and family, especially when it involved their three children: Dash, 6, Atlas, 3, and Lake, 3 months.
“He was the most amazing father —especially with Atlas, who has epilepsy and special needs,” says Summer, who met Adam on a blind date. “He was hands-on with therapy and was head over heels for all of the kids. I’ve never met a man who was more invested in his children than he was.”
Her 6-year-old son was standing by her side that night when she learned that Adam had been swept away in an avalanche just after 5 p.m., and that his friends had searched for hours but couldn’t find him.
“I tried my best to hold it together, but at one point, I broke down completely,” she says. “Adam’s friend said that the conditions were so bad that it was too dangerous for them to keep looking that night. Early the next morning, lots of people from the community volunteered to help, and a team of search dogs soon located Adam’s body.”
A few weeks after her husband’s funeral, Summer helped coordinate an avalanche awareness seminar with her neighbor and former boss, Steve Dutcher, who owns Action Motor Sports, where many locals and tourists rent snowmobiles.
“Adam’s death hit the community hard,” Dutcher, 33, tells PEOPLE, “and I was impressed that Summer wanted to make some positive changes so soon. We have several deaths a year in our area due to avalanches, but people don’t really think about it until it hits close to home. It makes sense to start a program to loan out safety gear for free. It could definitely save some lives.”
“It’s too late for Adam,” adds Summer, “but my family isn’t going to let this tragedy destroy or define us. We’re going to move forward with hope and love and take our message about avalanche safety everywhere that we can. I want everyone to go out and have fun in the snow, as long as they don’t leave the house without proper gear. More than anything, I want them to come home safe to hug their families at the end of the day.”