It was the brown snout and ears that caught their attention. Then they heard noises coming from under the snow. That was reason enough for three passing snowmobile riders to jump off their machines and start digging.
"It looked like a guy's arm at first because we were expecting to see a skier," Marty Mobley told the Alaska Dispatch News. "But it was moaning and groaning and moving and we realized it was a moose, even though only his ears and some of its snout was sticking out of the snow."
Mobley said he and two friends, all residents of Matanuska-Susitna Borough, Alaska, used their shovels to free the animal.
The moose had been buried Sunday in an avalanche on Hatcher Pass, about 55 miles northeast of Anchorage. The young cow, which may have triggered the avalanche, was completely buried in hard-pack snow.
The three men had to work quickly because the recent warm weather meant more avalanches were possible.
"We had about 2,500 feet of mountain above us still," Mobley told the Dispatch. "Half slid, half didn't, so we didn't want to screw around a bunch there."
Two dug while one other was on avalanche lookout. Mobley's best friend had been killed while snowmobiling back in 1999.
When the moose was mostly free, one of the men gently poked the moose, which suddenly stood up. Mobley said it looked like the abominable snowman, as it was covered in packed snow.
It shook off the snow and ran down the mountain "at full steam" and was apparently uninjured.
"I am an animal lover, and I couldn't leave it there," Mobley said. "Besides, we deal with a lot of avalanches and a lot of snow. That kind of karma is something we don't pass up."