Avalanche kills Fraser resident on Willow Creek Pass
On News Years Eve, Tuesday, Dec. 31, Grand County emergency personnel with the help of search and rescue members from Jackson County recovered the body of George Dirth, 28, of Fraser, who died after being caught and buried by an avalanche on Parkview Mountain, west of Willow Creek Pass.
The death marks the first avalanche fatality in Colorado during this winter season, according to Scott Toepfer, an avalanche forecaster with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.
Dirth was backcountry snowboarding with two other males, all experienced backcountry skiers, on the northeast aspect of Parkview Mountain, when the avalanche let go around 1:30 p.m., according to a Grand County Search and Rescue press release.
All in the trio were experienced backcountry skiers, according to reports, and all were equipped with avalanche beacons, shovels, and probes and had been digging snow pits throughout the day to check the potential for avalanches in the area.
One of Dirth’s companions skied down the path first while Dirth and his other companion watched from the top of the path. Dirth was the second to descend the path and triggered the avalanche that buried him with close to 6 feet of snow.
His skiing partners quickly initiated a search for Dirth using avalanche beacons and located him. The search to find Dirth only took about a minute to complete, according to the press release, though it took 10 minutes to clear Dirth’s airway.
Dirth was not breathing and had no pulse when his companions unburied him and they immediately began CPR, which they continued for an estimated 20 to 30 minutes.
The 911 call was received by the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office around 1:32 p.m. and was relayed to the Grand County Sheriff’s Office, according to Grand County Sheriff Rod Johnson. The original call was for a partially buried victim in the area of Parkview Mountain, located about three miles west of Willow Creek Pass within Grand County.
Grand County Search and Rescue responded with 15 members and Jackson County Search and Rescue assisted with four members. Both the Grand County Sheriff’s Office and the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office were on the scene of the accident.
The Colorado Avalanche Information Center has released a preliminary report of the accident , which details that the size of the avalanche was relatively small compared to the size of the avalanche slide path, though had enough force to bury and kill a person.
The Colorado Avalanche Information center reported the avalanche danger in the area at the time of the accident to be considerate (level 2) above tree line and near tree line for all aspects of slopes in the Front Range Zone, which encompasses Willow Creek pass.
Persistent slabs and wind-loaded snow are the main cause of the heightened avalanche danger.
Reid Tulley can be reached at 970-887-3334
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