Experts warn of early season avalanche danger after a slew of close calls in Colorado mountains
November 2, 2009
SUMMIT COUNTY – A 17-year-old Eagle County resident injured in an avalanche Sunday near the Climax Mine was in stable condition when he was transported to the Vail Valley Medical Center.
A spokesperson for the hospital said the patient – whose name has not yet been released – remained in stable condition Monday afternoon, but did not release any other details.
The skier was buried up to his neck Sunday when he triggered a snowslide on Bartlett Peak, in the backcountry near Fremont Pass. Two members of the group were Vail ski patrollers, according to a member of the search and rescue team. All the skiers were equipped with avalanche rescue gear, according to published reports.
The avalanche victim was suffering from compartment syndrome and was in danger of losing part of his leg, according to rescuers.
Compartment syndrome is an acute medical condition that sometimes occurs after trauma or surgery in which increased pressure impairs major blood supply to a part of the body.
In this case, the victim was recovered from the burial by his ski partners and quickly rescued by a Flight for Life team, which transported him to the St. Anthony Summit Medical Center in Frisco.
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Early season danger
Along with the helicopter, ground-based search and rescue teams slogged several miles through knee-deep snow to reach the scene, breaking through the unconsolidated early-season snow to the ground with nearly every step.
The avalanche fracture line was 1-2 feet deep, showing the potential danger of the early season snowpack.
“People shouldn’t underestimate the avalanche danger in the early season,” said Dan Burnett, a veteran of the Summit County Search and Rescue Group.
Burnett said he’s been involved in numerous early-season rescues, when victims said they thought they were safe because they could see grass sticking out through the snow. He said a relatively shallow snowpack is no indicator of safety. To the contrary, slick grass can bend and give way under the weight of fresh snow. Grass is an ideal sliding surface for avalanches, Burnett said.
In an online bulletin, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center said there have avalanche fatalities every month of the year in Colorado. This year in October, nine people were caught by seven early season slides, including one incident on Loveland Pass, a popular local backcountry area.
Rescue groups are warning backcountry skiers to be prepared for avalanches. Already this season slides have been reported in Rocky Mountain National Park and on Independence, Loveland and Jones passes.