Winds continue to load starting zones, even under sunny skies, so avalanche danger will persist in high country
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — A string of early season close-call avalanche incidents continued Tuesday, when a pair of backcountry travelers narrowly escaped harm after triggering a slide in a well-known path at Loveland Pass.
The large slab avalanche broke away on an east-facing leeward slope under a ridge line around mid-day. Wind had carried snow from the most recent storm into a thick pillow sitting atop an unstable base; exactly the type of slope the Colorado Avalanche Information Center singled out as dangerous in its morning bulletin.
The avalanche center reported that one member of the party was partially buried, but that they were able to self-rescue.
Several other large avalanches also ran on similar slopes in the Loveland Pass area, where observers for the Colorado Avalanche Information Center reported a tender snowpack and rated the overall avalanche danger as “high,” with human-triggered slides likely.
Both ski cuts and highway avalanche control work resulted in triggered slides.
This year’s spate of slides began Oct. 5 in Rocky Mountain National Park, where a 40-foot wide, 6-inch deep slab broke loose and took a pair of climbers for a short ride down a steep, rocky pitch, according to the avalanche center. A week later, three skiers near Independence Pass remotely triggered an avalanche in a steep, north-facing gully. That slide ran about 1,200 vertical feet.
On Oct. 17, a skier triggered a medium-size slide, about 2 feet deep. The avalanche took with it all the new snow from the October storms, right down to the surface of the permanent snowfield on the Tyndall Glacier in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Another skier suffered bumps and bruises when he was caught Oct. 25 in an avalanche on Flattop Mountain, in Rocky Mountain National Park. The latter slide broke 4 feet deep, showing how early season snowfall can quickly lead to mid-winter avalanche conditions.
Also on Oct. 25, a skier triggered a slab on a hard ice crust at 12,000 feet on an east-facing slope at Loveland Pass. The skier tumbled about 150 vertical feet, but there wasn’t enough snow to bury the skier. According to the avy center, the slide’s crown (where it broke away from the surrounding snow) was about 20 inches deep.
On October 31, a trio of skiers in the backcountry near the Climax Mine (near Fremont Pass, between Copper Mountain and Leadville) were involved in another serious incident that required a helicopter rescue.
See below for additional photos of the recent slides at Loveland Pass.