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Colorado: Several skiers caught in A-Basin avalanche

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A Feb. 16 avalanche on the west side of Montezuma Bowl trapped a number of people, but all were recovered and only one serious injury was reported. Trail map courtesy Arapahoe Basin.

Ski patrol-led group involved in Montezuma Basin snow slide; all group members accounted for

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — An avalanche swept down a steep face at Arapahoe Basin Saturday, catching a group of 14 people led by an A-Basin ski patroller.

After an extensive search, all the people in the group were accounted for. One person was evacuated by toboggan due to a knee injury, according to a statement from Arapahoe Basin.

The slide occurred on the west side of Montezuma Bowl in an area that wasn’t yet open to the general public. The area where the slide happened underwent extensive avalanche mitigation and explosive work by Arapahoe Basin Ski Patrol during the past week. According to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, the avalanche was a hard slab up to 6 feet thick on a south-southeast east facing slope above treeline slope. All 15 people were caught and one person was fully buried.

Arapahoe Basin and the Colorado Avalanche Information Center will jointly investigate the slide. CAIC director Ethan Greene said he’ll visit the site Sunday at the request of A-Basin. A subsequent report from the avalanche center will likely include more detailed information on the incident.

The post-control slide at A-Basin highlights the tender nature of the snowpack in parts of the Colorado backcountry, Greene said, adding that there have been numerous slides in the area between Loveland Pass and Berthoud Pass, including the Pass Lake slide path on Loveland Pass, just west of the summit.

Nearby, a resort skier at Keystone ducked a rope and broke a cornice, which triggered another slide, Greene said. Farther north, another backcountry traveler took a 400-foot ride in an avalanche in the vicinity of Jones Pass.

“There was a fair amount of avalanche activity. There was a lot of wind transport going on today … We were all taken off guard the last few days by how reactive the snowpack is,” Greene said.

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Colorado courts grappling with inbounds avalanche deaths

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Looking toward the area on Prima Cornice where the avalanche started. Photo courtesy Colorado Avalanche Information Center. Click on the photo to read the full CAIC report on the slide.

One case dismissed as another heads toward jury trial: outcome could hinge on interpretation of Colorado Ski Safety Act’s ‘inherent risks of skiing’ definition

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Two Colorado judges have reached dramatically different conclusions about a pair of inbounds avalanche deaths that occurred on the same day at Winter Park and Vail ski areas last season.

Both Colorado skiers died Jan. 22, 2012, after one of last season’s first big snowstorms dumped fresh powder atop a rotten base layer, leading to dangerous avalanche conditions across the state.

In early December, Broomfield District Court Judge Patrick Murphy rejected arguments by Vail Resorts attorneys that the avalanche that killed teenager Taft Conlin on the Prima Cornice trail at Vail Ski Area was an inherent risk of skiing, as defined by the Colorado Ski Safety Act.

In late December, Grand County District Court Judge Mary Hoak dismissed a similar lawsuit against Intrawest Winter Park Operations Corporation in the death of Christopher Norris, who was also killed by an avalanche while skiing an inbounds area at Winter Park.

Hoak ruled concluded “that the inbounds avalanche falls squarely within the definition of inherent dangers and risks of skiing.” Read the court order here. Continue reading

Colorado: Ski patroller dies in avalanche at Snowmass

Colorado far exceeds any other state in the number of reported avalanche fatalities since 1950. Graph courtesy CAIC.

Colorado far exceeds any other state in the number of reported avalanche fatalities since 1950. Graph courtesy Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

Three deaths reported across the country so far this season

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — The Colorado Avalanche Information Center is reporting the first avalanche death of the 2012-2013 winter occurred Sunday, Dec. 30 at Snowmass.

According to the preliminary report, the 49-year-old female ski patroller was skiing alone in a permanently closed area called the Ship’s Prow Glades, in the Hanging Valley Area. The woman’s name is being withheld pending notification of family. Continue reading

Winter storm winding up across Colorado

Avalanche incidents on the rise in the backcountry

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A winter storm swirls across Colorado.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A slow-moving winter storm crossing Colorado Wednesday night through Thursday could deliver several more inches of snow to soften up the slopes for the incoming wave of holiday skiers.

The National Weather Service issued winter weather advisories for most of the western Colorado mountains, where 3 to 10 inches of snow could pile up by late Thursday night. Snow started falling in the southern mountains Wednesday morning under a southwest flow, but most ski areas only reported a trace as of Wednesday evening, with the exception of Silverton Mountain which reported 8 inches (36-inch base) in the afternoon snow report from Colorado Ski Country USA.

The heaviest snow in the central and northern mountains is expected after midnight. Winds from the west and northwest could bring 2 to 5 inches of snow to favored west-facing slopes. Light to moderate snow could continue into Thursday night before tapering off as high pressure builds into the region, bringing cold temperatures for late in the week and the first part of the weekend. Continue reading

Colorado: Judge rejects Vail Resorts’ claim that avalanches are an inherent risk of inbounds, lift-served resort skiing

Vail will have to produce avalanche safety documents for trial

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A jury trial may determine whether Vail Resorts has any liability for the Jan. 22 avalanche death of 13-year-old Taft Conlin on Prima Cornice.

By Bob Berwyn

* some discusssion of this story on the Telemark Tips forum.

FRISCO — Vail Resorts failed last week to convince a judge that avalanches are an inherent risk of skiing on the company’s flagship mountain. Broomfield District Court Judge Patrick Murphy declined to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the family of Taft Conlin, who was killed by a snowslide on Prima Cornice in January 2012.

The company’s argument that avalanches are an inherent risk of skiing inbounds at ski areas may surprise a great many skiers, most of whom probably assume that they won’t be exposed to avalanche danger when they’re riding resort lifts and skiing on marked trails. Read Vail’s motion to dismiss here.

Advocating on behalf of Conlin’s family and for all skiers, attorney Jim Heckbert urged the court to reject Vail Resorts’ claims.

“If one is to accept the Defendant’s arguments, a ski area operator is permitted to negligently or knowingly expose skiers to the danger of death by avalanches with impunity. Because the risk of avalanche on January 22. 2012, could have been eliminated through the use of reasonable safety measures, the risk was not an inherent danger of skiing,” Heckbert wrote in the response to the the Vail Resorts motion to dismiss. Read the entire response here. Continue reading

Colorado: Avalanche danger ramps up with new snow, wind

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There’s already a layer of unstable faceted snow crystals at the base of the snowpack, potentially setting up avalanche hazards in the backcountry. Bob Berwyn photo.

Avalanche awareness classes being offered all around the state

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO —There haven’t been any avalanche accidents yet this season in the Summit County backcountry, but avalanche control work around Loveland Pass triggered several slides that broke all the way to the ground and ran considerable distances, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

More than a foot of new snow combined with steady west-northwest winds have quickly ramped the backcountry avalanche danger up into the high end of the warning scale across most of Colorado’s northern and central mountains.

This season’s snowpack is starting out almost as poorly as last winter’s when snowslides claimed seven lives in Colorado. With skiers and riders eager to get out and sample some of the fresh powder, avy pros emphasize that education and awareness are the key to safe travel in the backcountry. Continue reading

Colorado: CDOT eyes automated avalanche blasting system for Berthoud Pass corridor

A powder avalanche blasts down a hillside near Berthoud Pass, Colorado. Photo courtesy CDOT.

Pilot project to be considered for the Stanley slide path

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A year or so after first talking up the idea of installing an automated avalanche blasting system on Berthoud Pass, the Colorado Department of Transportation is getting ready to hold a public info session to discuss the idea with the public.

At an elevation of 11,307 feet, Berthoud Pass averages about 500 inches of snow per year, and the area has 55 identified slide paths, many of them directly threatening U.S. Highway 40. The most recognized avalanche path, and proposed site of CDOT’s pilot project, is the Stanley Slide area located on US 40 at Mile Post 249.8. Continue reading

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