No skiers caught in multiple Wednesday avalanches
Search and rescue crews initially called to Loveland Pass, Berthoud Pass slides
Multiple avalanches in the area caused emergency crews to rally Wednesday, March 23, but no one was buried or injured.
One vehicle was caught in a slide that came across U.S. Highway 6 on Loveland Pass, but Colorado Department of Transportation crews were able to create a path for the motorist to drive out. CDOT officials conducted avalanche mitigation nearby during the highway’s closure from about 11:30 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.
Summit County Rescue Group spokesperson Anna DeBattiste said search and rescue had initially been called to the scene but that they were told no one had been buried.
Another slide on nearby Berthoud Pass in Grand County had an initial report that two people might be buried, but that report turned out to be unfounded.
First responders searched the area by air and on the ground using beacons and avalanche-trained rescue dogs to confirm that there were no victims in the slide, according to the Grand County Sheriff’s Office.
The slides come after a weekend of at least four human-triggered avalanches in Summit County. In the past week, two deaths have been reported across the state, including a 49-year-old man who was killed Saturday, March 19, near Steamboat Springs and a 29-year-old who was buried Tuesday, March 17, near Ophir.
The Steamboat slide happened at about 9,800 feet on a northwest-facing slope that was heavily covered by trees. The man who died was not buried but was found not breathing near a tree, and efforts to perform CPR on him were unsuccessful.
A second skier was injured and evacuated by helicopter.
The Ophir slide killed a man who was snowboarding solo. A Telluride heliskiing crew had spotted tracks heading into avalanche debris but no exit tracks, according to a report by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.
For the 2021-22 season, there have been at least 16 individuals caught by snow slides, including 10 who were buried. These slides have resulted in six fatalities in Colorado. Of those six deaths, three were on snowshoes, two were skiing and one was snowboarding.
That is the most snowshoers killed in Colorado avalanches in a single season. Prior to this season, the last recorded fatality involving a snowshoer was Dec. 31, 2014, near Torreys Peak.
The recent avalanche deaths took place during moderate (2 out of 5) avalanche danger, but experts warn that individuals still need to be cautious since the snowpack is very tender right now.
“Moderate danger means you can trigger a dangerous avalanche in specific locations, so you need to know where those specific locations are,” said Ethan Greene, the director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. “The way to do that is by looking at the avalanche forecast and planning your trip so you are avoiding the types of areas that the forecast describes.”
A 2006 study found that about half of all avalanche deaths in Colorado occurred when the risk was forecast as moderate.
That same study found people generally heeded warnings of extreme avalanche risks but were more likely to venture out if the risk level was lower. The Utah Avalanche Information Center has made similar observations, saying that increased fatalities at these levels are because it creates “the maximum interaction between people and avalanches.”
While the scale is numbered one to five, it is not linear, and the risk doubles at each level. This means venturing into the backcountry when the risk is moderate is twice as dangerous as when there is low risk.
Last season, avalanches killed 37 backcountry travelers in the U.S., including 12 men in Colorado. At this time last year, eight backcountry skiers, two snowmobilers and one snowboarder had been killed in avalanches in Colorado.
The Colorado Sun, The Associated Press, Steamboat Pilot & Today and Summit Daily News contributed to this report.
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