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Colorado: Report says deadly Loveland Pass slide went unnoticed for several hours

State report concludes the April 20 avalanche accident that killed five people was avoidable

Looking east along the crown line of an April 20 avalanche that killed five men in the Sheep Creek drainage

Looking east along the crown line of an April 20 avalanche that killed five men in the Sheep Creek drainage near Loveland Pass, Colorado. Photo courtesy CAIC.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — It’s April in Colorado and heavy snow is falling on the mountains of the Continental Divide, where a high-spirited group of mountain enthusiasts gather to plan a short backcountry tour, envisioning dreamy, floating turns and faceshots on the slopes of Mt. Sniktau, a mountain along the Continental Divide between Loveland Ski Area and Arapahoe Basin where planners once hoped to create an Olympic ski arena.

Well equipped and versed in backcountry travel, the six men head up Loveland Pass, a Mecca for Colorado backcountry skiers since the early days of the sport. At Scotty’s Corner, the last hairpin before the crest, the men headed east across the face of the 13,234-foot peak, aiming for northwest facing slopes on the far side of a broad gully that splits the face of the peak, according to an April 24 report from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

Recognizing the potential danger of avalanches, the group identifies what they thought was a safe zone near a cluster of trees on a knoll on the far side of the drainage. They discuss the avalanche danger again, agreeing to spread out as they crossed the slope. But they aren’t cautious enough, given the magnitude of the slide they ultimately trigger at about 10:15 a.m. Continue reading

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A-Basin’s Beacon Bowl coming up this weekend

A contestant in the 2012 Beacon Bowl at A-Basin zeroes in on a buried beacon.

A contestant in the 2012 Beacon Bowl at A-Basin zeroes in on a buried beacon.

In it’s 11th year, the popular A-Basin event morphs into a two-day rescue clinic; proceeds benefit the CAIC

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The two most recent avalanche deaths in Colorado show the continued need for avalanche education and rescue training in the state that historically tallies the majority of accidents each season.

Both deaths occurred in remote areas, where the skiers had to rely on their own rescue skills to try and recover buried victims. In those situations, speedy location, recovery and timely first-aid can make the difference between life and death.

One of the best ways to prepare for the almost unthinkable is to practice rescues in the field, simulating a real-life rescue scenario, and this weekend, Arapahoe Basin and the Colorado Avalanche Information Center offer a chance to do just that with the annual rescue clinic, which has morphed into a two-day event (Feb. 8-9) from the traditional Beacon Bowl. Continue reading

Missing hikers found in good condition in Glacier NP

Heaven’s Peak in Glacier National Park. File photo courtesy National Park Service.

Three-day search ends successfully

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — After a three-day search, rescue crews located a pair of missing hikers in Glacier National Park Monday afternoon.

According to a press release from the National Park Service, Neal Peckens and Jason Hiser were reported as missing since Friday when they failed to board their return flight to the East Coast.

The men are reportedly in good condition with no injuries. They were flown out of the backcountry and met family members anxiously awaiting their return.

Peckens and Hiser were hiking on the east side of the park near Two Medicine. Park rangers started the search when family members reported them as missing.

Search and rescue crews encountered winter weather conditions and up to 18 inches of snow on trails, snow drifts, limited visibility and very windy conditions.

Organizations assisting Glacier National Park with the search include Flathead County Sheriff’s Office, Flathead Country Search and Rescue, North Valley Search and Rescue, Flathead Emergency Aviation Resources, and US Border Patrol.

Search is on for missing hikers in Glacier National Park

Cutbank Valley in Glacier National Park. Photo courtesy National Park Service.

Wintry weather hampers rescue crews

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Winter-like weather in the northern Rockies has hampered the search for two missing hikers in Glacier National Park. The two men, 32-year-old Neal Peckens from Virginia and 32-year-old Jason Hiser from Maryland, were reported missing Oct. 12 when they missed their flight home.

National Park Service rangers believe the men  departed from the North Shore Trailhead at Two Medicine on Tuesday, October 9. According to their backcountry permit, the men planned to camp at the Oldman Backcountry Campground on Tuesday night and return to Two Medicine on Wednesday, October 10. Continue reading

Colorado: Gore Range search for hunters ends well

Three helicopters help deploy search teams

Hunters reported as missing by their family were found between Black Lake (upper right) and Mt. Powell (lower left).

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — A major rescue operation at the north end of Summit County ended well as a group of hunters was found safe and sound a few days after they sent a couple of text messages to their family indicating they might be in trouble.

The initial texts were sent by the hunters as early as Wednesday, but the full-scale search didn’t start until Saturday, when three helicopters — including two brand new Lakotas — from Buckley Air Force Base joined in the mission.

Summit County Rescue Group, joined by teams from Clear Creek County and Vail, had as many as 18 people in the field in various parts of the Gore Range, said SCRG member Dan Burnett.

The hunters were all in good health and unharmed when a search party found them Saturday afternoon.

Letter: No charge for search and rescue missions

A member of Summit County's rescue group retrieves a raft during high spring runoff.

San Juan County sheriff causes stir with comments on rescue costs

*Editor’s note: A recent news report on a Denver TV station created some buzz, as the San Miguel County sheriff raised the issue of payment for search and rescue missions. In response, Summit County Sheriff and the president of the Summit County Rescue Group have reiterated their long-held stance that people won’t be billed for search and rescue missions.

To Whom It May Concern:
Every few years, the debate over who should pay for backcountry rescues is renewed.  The Summit County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO) and the Summit County Rescue Group (SCRG) would like to clarify that the SCRG does not charge for rescues.
SCRG President Jim Koegel explained, “We encourage early reporting of missing persons or situations where rescue services are needed. We don’t want the call to be delayed – or not made at all – because the person in need of assistance believes they’ll have to pay for our services.” Continue reading

Colorado skiing: Test your avalanche search & rescue skills and some new gear at Arapahoe Basin’s annual Beacon Bowl

Pros and amateurs test their beacon skills; along with joining clinics and demos of new gear

Arapahoe Basin Beacon Bowl

A participant in the 2010 Beacon Bowl at Arapahoe Basin prepares to deploy a probe after locating a buried signal with an avalanche transceiver.

A beacon search during the A-Basin Beacon Bowl, 2010.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY —If you got a new avalanche beacon for Christmas but haven’t taken it out of the box yet, this coming weekend might be a good time to test it at the Feb. 11 Beacon Bowl at Arapahoe Basin.

The annual event is huge fundraiser for the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, and a chance to measure your beacon search skills in a competitive setting, with the adrenaline flowing — the follow up with ongoing practice sessions, because statistics show that rescue experts who practice on a regular basis are about twice as fast at finding and uncovering a buried victim than the average recreational user.

That’s critical in an avalanche rescue situation, because the odds of surviving a burial drop rapidly after the first 15 minutes, and outside help is unlikely to arrive within that that timespan after a backcountry slide.

“That 15 minutes goes by really fast,” said Dale Atkins, president of the American Avalanche Association. Continue reading

Colorado avalanche rescuers to get new aerial tool

Flight for Life Colorado

A Flight for Life chopper and crew outside the National Mining Hall of Fame in Leadville, Colorado.

Flight For Life prepares to deploy aerial search beacon that will speed certain types of rescues

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Certain types of avalanche rescues in Colorado could become easier as Flight For Life prepares to deploy a powerful aerial device that could detect buried beacons from up to 100 meters away.

The Colorado-based air-rescue service is already a key component in many types of mountain rescues, quickly transporting dog-search teams to remote rescue sites and evacuating injured climbers, hikers or skiers.

The new tool would give the pilots and crew an additional capability to quickly scan avalanche accident sites for buried beacons, determining if, in fact, someone is buried in the debris. Visual observations of tracks or ski gear can often help provide clues, but a definite determination of whether there is a buried beacon could help rescue crews determine the best way to proceed with a rescue. Continue reading

Summit County Rescue groups to hold open house

Find out more in Frisco on Thursday, September 8

Summit Rescue Group member Colin Dinsmore hiking up Quandary Peak during a recent search and rescue mission. PHOTO BY DANIEL DUNN.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY, CO —Many Summit Voice readers recently enjoyed Daniel Dunn’s riveting account of a rescue on Quandary Peak (read part 2 here). Now people will have a chance to learn more about mountain and water rescue. Members of the Summit County Rescue Group (SCRG) and the Summit County Water Rescue Team (SCWRT) are holding an informational open house this Thursday.

For those contemplating applying for SCRG’s fall 2011 or spring 2012 new member training classes, this is an opportunity to find out what it’s all about. SCRG and SCWRT members will be on hand to provide information about the application process. Meet the current members of the Summit County Rescue Group here. You can also view an extensive photo gallery of past rescue missions and training here.

The open house will be held at the SCRG and SCWRT barns in Frisco from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursday. The barns are located off of County Shops Road in Frisco. From Highway 9, turn onto Peak One Blvd (by the Senior Center). County Shops Road is the third right.

Please RSVP to scrgnmtc@gmail.com if you plan to attend or want more information about joining SCRG or SCWRT.

Colorado: Rescue on Quandary Peak, Part 2

Helping hands on a big mountain

Summit County Rescue Group member Daniel Dunn during the ascent to search for some missing hikers on Quandary Peak, in Summit County, Colorado.

Editor’s note: This is part 2 of  Daniel Dunn’s first-person account of a recent rescue mission on Quandary Peak, often described as an “easy” 14er. Despite that reputation, Quandary claims live on a regular basis, both in winter and summer and keeps local search and rescue volunteers busy. Visit the Summit County Rescue Group online to learn more. Click here for Part 1.

Summit County Rescue Group Open House info

Story and photos by Daniel Dunn

Saving Lives
What!? Colin just came over the radio, he’s got a visual, about 100 yards! Awesome! Nice work dude! That is really pretty exciting. He’s about 100 yards away, and said all four guys are moving towards him. Great! He’s about 400 vertical feet above us. Nothing we can really do from here, and in fact he just said why don’t we sit tight, as these guys are all moving, and we still have a long way to go, and we’re gonna need to be fresh for the rest of the journey.

20 minutes later and we finally see all five guys slowly making their way down to us. It’s amazing when we see them. They come out from behind some arête, and they aren’t that far away, but it seems like they moving so slowly. Wow, these aren’t mountain people, even what we think of as they easy stuff, they’re having serious issues with. Hey Dan, stop that thinking right now, they’re doing the best they can, and we’re here to help, don’t make ‘em feel bad.

Cool, they all get to us, yes! 13,400 feet is the elevation, and just about 6:30 p.m. Thank you weather gods for looking with pity upon us. One dude, the big guy, has a pretty good gash on his leg, but it’s all clotted up and he’s mobile. Not even giving it a second thought, there’s no way we’re looking at that wound right now. We gotta keep these guys moving. This is where I feel like my people skills shine. I instruct them to all grab a seat, giving them hot and/or cold water, and some Gatorade. I give them Clif bars and other sugary granola bars, gotta get some calories in these boys. I hang with them and let them know it’s all gonna be OK, while behind me, Colin and Punchy discuss the plan of attack. Continue reading


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