Izzy Kolodejchuk: The man behind Glacier’s first avalanche beacons

Print Article

Izzy Kolodejchuk in this photo provided by his family. He was also an avid Ham Radio operator.

For many skiers who head out into the backcountry, wearing an avalanche beacon today is commonplace.

But in 1968, fancy electronics were few and far between and if someone was buried in an avalanche, using probes — long poles that could find a body under the snow — were the most common method of retrieval.

Unfortunately, once a body was found, they often weren’t alive.

Izzy Kolodejchuk, a 38-year-old electronics technician in Glacier National Park, built the first beacons for the Glacier Park plow crews in the spring of 1968. According to a story in the Hungry Horse News at the time, Kolodjechuk used plans developed by Dr. John G. Lawton of the Cornell Aeronautics Laboratory that were provided by Ed LaChapelle of the Avalanche Study Center of Alta, Utah.

Kolodejchuk’s devices included a transmitter and a receiver. The transmitter was worn by the plow operator and included a 19-inch antennae sewn into his jacket. In tests on dummies, they worked if buried under three feet of snow.

This wasn’t the first avalanche beacon ever devised — Lawton gets credit for that — but it may have been the least expensive. Kolodejchuk’s devices used off-the-shelf parts and only cost $200. Canadian crews, when they heard about them, were immediately interested because the beacons they were using cost $5,000 apiece — a small fortune at the time.

Kolodejchuk wanted to patent the design, but the Park Service at the time wouldn’t let him, because he built them on Park Service time, his son, Allen Kolodejchuk, who lives in Columbia Falls, said in a recent interview.

Kolodejchuk’s beacon would have come in handy on May 26, 1953. That’s when an avalanche came down on the Going-to-the-Sun Road, killing foreman George H. Beaton and William A. Whitford and seriously injuring crewman Frederick E. Klein.

Crewman Jean Sullivan was buried under five feet of snow for 8 hours but survived.

“That (beacon) sure would have helped me back in 1953,” Sullivan remarked in 1968.

Kolodjechuk loved electronics, Allen noted. He lied about his age to join the Army at the tail end of World War II at the age of 17 and then re-enlisted, serving in Korea. His time in the Army sparked an interest in radios and electronics, Allen said.

In the private sector, Kolodejchuk got his start installing radio transmitter towers for ranchers in North Dakota. He then moved to Missoula and then to Glacier Park after he was hired by the Park Service.

In addition to his work for the Park Service, he also put up the first transmitter on Desert Mountain that brought TV to the Canyon and West Glacier.

Unfortunately, Kolodejchuk also suffered from multiple health problems and he died in 1975 at the age of 46.

It’s too bad, Allen said. He would have loved to have lived today, with all the electronic gadgets and cell phones.

“He would have really been into it,” Allen said.

Kolodejchuk is memorialized on the Veterans Wall at Marantette Park.

Print Article

Read More Glacier Park

Rising Sun Campground in Glacier goes to hard-sided camping after bear rips into tent

August 29, 2018 at 10:36 am | Hungry Horse News Camping restrictions are in place at Glacier Park’s Rising Sun Campground after a suspected bear ripped into the side of a tent on Friday and pulled out bedding and pillows. The campground along t...


Read More

Frogs, toads, and beavers prove to be a beautiful relationship

August 29, 2018 at 7:43 am | Hungry Horse News When one visits Glacier National Park, the first thing that comes to mind for most visitors isn’t the frogs and the toads that live there. The mountainous terrain and the streams that flow from it, h...


Read More

At Ellen Wilson, unwelcome guests

August 22, 2018 at 8:16 am | Hungry Horse News I came around the corner and there was a my tent, torn from its stakes, sorta slumped over and crooked. My sleeping bag looked worse yet, all bunched up and thoroughly soaked with goat saliva. The ...


Read More

Glacier Park saw about 905,000 visitors in July

August 13, 2018 at 11:52 am | Hungry Horse News Last year Glacier National Park topped 1 million visitors in July. This year, it didn’t quite reach that number, but it came close. Statistics released Monday show the park saw 905,959 visitors in J...


Read More

Contact Us

(406) 892-2151
PO BOX 189, 926 Nucleus Avenue
Columbia Falls, MT 59912

©2018 Hungry Horse News Terms of Use Privacy Policy