Avalanche claims one near Aspen | SummitDaily.com

Avalanche claims one near Aspen

STEVE BENSON AND TIM MUTRIEpitkin county correspondents
Aspen Times photo/Paul ConradRescuers carry the body of an avalanche victim through the Conumdrum Creek trailhead after retrieving him from the base of the Five Fingers chutes late Sunday afternoon March 6, 2005.

ASPEN – A man taking part in an avalanche education class was killed in a large slide Sunday afternoon in the Aspen Highlands backcountry.The victim, whose name and hometown were not released, was with five other skiers in a Level II advanced course led by Aspen Expeditions, a local guide service. The slide occurred beyond the Highlands ski area boundaries in an area known as Five Fingers Bowl. A skier on top of Highland Peak reported it at 2:45 p.m. The soft-slab avalanche swept the victim between 3,500 and 4,000 feet down a gully and buried him in heavy debris just above Conundrum Creek on the valley floor.The man was buried for about 20 minutes. When members of his party located him with avalanche transceivers and dug him out, he had a pulse but was not breathing. Rescuers and fellow skiers performed CPR on the man for nearly an hour. He was pronounced dead at the scene at 4:42 p.m.

The group had dropped into the gully and was skiing its left side when the slope cut loose, said Colorado Springs resident Drew Gibson, a member of the party. The avalanche caught the victim in the center of the gully, then it rushed past Gibson and four other skiers who were out of its path. The victim was the only one caught.The Colorado Avalanche Information Center had rated the avalanche danger for the Aspen area as moderate above and below treeline on Sunday.The slide was approximately 3 feet deep at its crown, according to a Highlands ski patroller who spoke on condition of anonymity. It was about 150 to 225 feet wide at the top.It broke off near the top of the Highlands ridge on a north-northeast-facing slope. The nearest landmark is the summit known locally as Five Fingers Peak or The Thumb, at about 12,000 feet.

It was rated as a Class III slide on a rising scale of five.”A big avalanche,” the patroller said. “You wouldn’t want to be in that avalanche.”The slide marks at least the fourth avalanche in the last week in the backcountry beyond the boundary off the ridge at Highlands.Two members of Mountain Rescue Aspen observed the slide while driving down Castle Creek Road. They pulled over when they saw the debris. After seeing movement in the debris field, they drove as far as they could up Conundrum Creek Road, skinned to the scene and were the first rescue members to arrive.

Rescuers initially requested a helicopter to airlift the victim, who broke both legs and suffered severe head trauma.Highlands patrol director Mac Smith said the party was one of at least four Sunday to exit the ski area in search of backcountry powder off the Highlands ridge.”For as many people who have gone out into Maroon Bowl and other places like that, this seems to be kind of inevitable at some point,” said Smith, who has been patrolling Highlands since the 1970s.Dick Jackson, owner/guide of Aspen Expeditions, also since the ’70s, and Whiting, the guide, could not be reached for comment.

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