3 Eagle County residents presumed dead after avalanche near Silverton | SummitDaily.com

3 Eagle County residents presumed dead after avalanche near Silverton

Recovery efforts are ongoing because of hazardous conditions

Tom Lotshaw and Pam Boyd
Vail Daily
An overview of the avalanche accident site near Silverton on Monday, Feb. 1. The red line marks the general path of the group, down the slope and then down the gully. The blue lines mark the approximate boundaries of the avalanche. The large avalanche on the left caught the group of skiers. The small avalanche on the right released simultaneously.
Photo from Telluride Helitrax

Editor’s note: The Vail Daily has changed the language in this story from “confirmed dead” to “presumed dead” to reflect a fluid situation on the ground in San Juan County as a search operation continues to recover the three missing skiers caught in Monday’s avalanche.

EAGLE — Family, friends and colleagues spent Monday night and much of Tuesday waiting, praying and hoping for a good outcome after four well-known Eagle County residents were buried in an avalanche near Silverton on Monday afternoon.

The four skiers were part of a larger group, which recovered one person with minor injuries. Three of the men who were missing after the avalanche were presumed dead Tuesday evening.

According to a preliminary report by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, the four backcountry skiers triggered a large avalanche between the towns of Silverton and Ophir while traveling in an area known as “The Nose.”

Four people were caught, carried and fully buried in the debris, according to the report. The avalanche released on a northeast-facing slope near tree line at an elevation of about 11,500 feet.

A search and rescue operation for the three men continued into Monday night and then resumed Tuesday morning following avalanche mitigation.

Some of the missing men were located Tuesday but have not been recovered from the area because of the time of day and the hazards rescue personnel faced, officials said.

“We are hoping for a successful recovery mission (Wednesday),” said San Juan County spokesperson DeAnne Gallegos, who noted that a large storm is expected to arrive in the area, which could complicate or delay the recovery mission.

The Vail Daily has confirmed the identities of the three skiers but is withholding their names pending positive identification by the coroner.

The multiagency search and rescue operations included the San Juan County Sheriff’s Department, San Juan County Search and Rescue, Silverton Medical Rescue, Colorado Avalanche Information Center, Helitrax helicopter service and La Plata County Search and Rescue.

A total of 10 skiers, snowboarders and snowmobilers have been caught in avalanches in Colorado this season, with eight people buried and four deaths, prior to Monday’s slide, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

Previous fatal incidents reported include:

  • One backcountry skier caught, buried and killed near Ohio Pass in the Anthracite Range on Dec. 18
  • Two backcountry skiers caught, buried and killed in an avalanche on the north face of Battleship southeast of Ophir on Dec. 19
  • One backcountry skier caught, buried and killed in an avalanche at First Creek north of Berthoud Pass on Dec. 26

Monday’s avalanche on “The Nose” is likely to be one of the largest avalanches in Colorado in recent years in terms of the number of people caught, buried and killed.

In February 2014, five skiers were caught in an avalanche on Star Mountain near Twin Lakes, with three skiers buried and two killed. In April 2013, six skiers were caught in an avalanche at Sheep Creek north of Loveland Pass, with five skiers buried and killed, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

A map of the "The Nose" and the approximate location of Monday's avalanche that caught and buried four Eagle County residents. The group recovered one person with minor injuries. Three others are confirmed dead.
Map from Colorado Avalanche Information Center

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