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Colorado: East Vail snow slide kills one skier

Forecasters warn of persistent avalanche danger

FRISCO — Skiing the East Vail chutes when the avalanche danger is rated as considerable is a dangerous game of Russian Roulette. After numerous close calls in the area the past few weeks, a backcountry skier died in a snowslide on Monday, January 7. It is the second avalanche death in Colorado this season. The first occurred Dec. 31 on Parkview Mountain, west of Willow Creek Pass.

Outsideonline.com is reporting that the victim was 24-year-old Tony Seibert, the grandson of Vail co-founder Pete Seibert. The Colorado Avalanche Information Center confirmed the East Vail Chutes death, but the CAIC website offered few details on the deadly incident. The center’s avalanche experts will visit the site Jan. 8 to investigate the accident. Continue reading

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Colorado: Backcountry avalanche danger is ‘considerable’

Faceted sugar snow, fresh windslab combine to make triggered releases likely on many slopes in the Summit-Vail area

Tricky avalanche conditions prevail in the backcountry.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — With clear and calm weather expected through the Christmas weekend and throngs of skiers and boarders expected in the high country, avalanche experts are warning  not to underestimate the dangers of  the thin and tricky early season snowpack in the backcountry.

The avalanche was rated as considerable as of late Wednesday, which means that triggered slides are likely and natural avalanches are possible.

“Small, human-triggered avalanches are likely in many areas,” in the Summit-Vail zone, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center forecasters wrote in their bulletin following the latest storm. And given the sparse snowpack, even a small avalanche could potentially step down to the ground and drag backcountry travelers through rocks and trees.

The most recent storm also brought easterly winds to the area, potentially loading areas that aren’t generally considered to be avalanche starting zones under the more prevalent westerlies. Fresh and brittle windslabs on east aspects are sitting atop unstable layers of faceted snow that offers almost no cohesion.

The most likely places to trigger avalanches are lee and cross-loaded slopes of more than 35 degrees, according to the CAIC.

With chilly temperatures expected to linger into Friday, the avalanche danger probably won’t subside much until later in the weekend.

Colorado: Avalanche warning in the San Juans

Avalanche warning in effect for parts of the San Juan Mountains in southwest Colorado. Click on the map for details.

Slides likely across most of the zone; more snow expected through Wednesday

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Backcountry travelers in the San Juans need to be extra-cautious the next few days, as heavy snowfall has prompted an avalanche warning covering the southern portion of the northern San Juans zone, from Red Mountain Pass northward, west to near Telluride and east to Wolf Creek Pass. For now, the warning is in effect through 12 p.m., Dec. 14.

Between eight to 12 inches of snow have already fallen in the area, and after a lull Tuesday morning, more heavy snow is expected, with another six to eight inches possible across parts of the southern and central mountains by Wednesday morning. Resort snow totals reported at the Colorado Ski Country USA website include eight inches at Purgatory, and six inches at Silverton Mountain and Wolf Creek. Continue reading

Weatherblog: Powder, avy concerns in the high country

Wilderness Sports sponsors the Summit Voice weatherblog. Click to visit Wilderness Sports online.


A blob of blue shows Saturday's storm right over the Colorado mountains.

Snow to end Saturday night, chilly overnight lows expected

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — More widespread snow and high winds reported across the high country Saturday morning, as an energetic wave of moisture is pushed through the area by a strong jet stream. Heavy snow started falling overnight, with Breckenridge, Keystone and Copper Mountain all reporting 7 inches of new snow in their 6 a.m. snow reports. A-Basin reported 4 inches, with 6 inches and Crested Butte, 5 inches at Loveland, 3 inches at Monarch Mountain and 8 inches at Sol Vista — the first time I can remember seeing that area report the highest total for the day. Continue reading

Ski patroller was wearing Avalung when killed by slide

A skier deploys an avalanche probe, used to pinpoint buried victims, during the annual Beacon Bowl event at Arapahoe Basin.

Colorado Avalanche Information Center releases technical report on  Wolf Creek avalanche fatality; OSHA to determine whether patrol director Scott Kay was exposed to unacceptable risks

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Wolf Creek ski patrol director Scott Kay was wearing an Avalung breathing device when he was killed by a soft snow avalanche on Nov. 22, but was not able to deploy the Avalung before he was buried, according to a technical report posted by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. According to the CAIC report, the mouthpiece was still secured in the shoulder pack of the harness when Kay was uncovered by rescue workers.

The Avalung is intended to enable buried avalanche victims to breathe while trapped under the snow. Many avalanche victims die of asphyxiation, either when snow and ice fill their nose and mouth, or sometimes when an ice mask forms from condensation, blocking the flow of air.

According to the CAIC report, the area of the slide had a variable snow depth ranging from boulders in some spots, with up to two to three feet of snow on the ground in other areas. The avalanche ran on a firm melt-freeze ice crust that formed on top of snow that fell in October. The crown face, where the slide broke away from the surrounding snowpack, ranged from three inches to three feet deep. The area had received 16 inches of new snow in the 24 hours before the avalanche, with strong southwest winds blowing during the storm. The slide was on a 45-degree, northeast-facing slope at an elevation of 11,600 feet. Continue reading

Avalanche pros pow-wow at Leadville workshop

A huge turnout at the annual Colorado Snow and Avalanche Workshop in Leadville.

Communication, organization the key to successful rescues; smart phone technology helping pinpoint victims in some recent missions

By Bob Berwyn

LEADVILLE — Good organization and communication are the keys to successful avalanche rescues, experts said Friday morning during the first few presentations at the annual Colorado Snow and Avalanche Workshop, discussing a couple of recent missions as case studies.

Summit County search and rescue veterans Dan Burnett and Aaron Parment said a series of linked decisions last May during a tricky rescue on Peak One, high above Frisco, enabled the rescue teams to move an injured snowboarder to a spot where a U.S. Army Blackhawk helicopter could ultimate evacuate him just before darkness.

Even though it was too windy earlier in the day for a helicopter rescue, mission coordinators stayed in touch with the choppers. When the wind died right around sunset, all the pieces were in place for a quick airlift, Burnett said.

The avalanche happened about three miles into the backcountry, and the rescue teams had to carefully evaluate the spring snow conditions to decide how best to reach the snowboarder, who suffered an open tib-fib fracture in the snow slide. In spring weather, the snow often can’t support the weight of snowmobiles, but quick temperature measurements near the staging area helped the teams decide that they could advance at least part way up the mountain with the help of the snowmobiles. Continue reading

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