Lake County backcountry ski party identified |

Lake County backcountry ski party identified

Joe Moylan
This photo depicts the "crown face," or the starting point of the avalanche on Star Peak on Independence Pass in Lake County. The wall of snow near the summit is five to seven feet tall, according to information provided by the Lake County Office of Emergency Management. Two Wisconsin men died in the avalanche, which was triggered at about 5 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 15.
Courtesy/Lake County Office of Emergency Management |

TWIN LAKES — The Lake County Office of Emergency Management has officially released the names of all seven skiers caught in an avalanche Saturday, Feb. 15 on Independence Pass in Lake County.

The two fatal victims, previously identified by an Associated Press report, were confirmed as Justin Lentz, 32, of Sun Prairie, Wis., and Jarrard Law, 34, of Portage, Wis. The five other members of the backcountry ski party are Carl Bryan, 51, Katie Bryan, 30, and Scott Smelcer, 28, all of Twin Lakes; and Ben Hartt, 38, and Seth Neilson, 30, both of Wisconsin.

Lentz’s father, Robert, said his son loved to ski and started when he was 5 or 6 years old. He “was a good kid,” Robert said, who worked as an electrician and was engaged to be married.

Law was an information-technology expert at the Necedah Area School District, where Superintendent Larry Gierach remembered him as an “incredible man.”

“Jarrard had great skills with people and was an integral part of our planning when it came to technology,” Gierach said.

Many staff members thought of Law as a friend first and as a professional second, the superintendent said.

Lentz and Law were close friends who frequently went skiing, snowboarding and mountain biking together, said Joey Kindred, 28, who knew them both well.

Kindred recalled how Lentz enjoyed competing his friends with over-the-top snowboard tricks, even though he had a bad shoulder that would pop out of its socket every time he crashed.

“He’d fall down so often we’d call him ‘Man Down,’” Kindred said. “He’d laugh, get up and do it again. And when his shoulder popped out he’d call over to his fiancee — she’s a nurse — and she’d pop it back in.”

Law was always the life of a party, but he was happiest when he was in the outdoors or spending time with friends, Kindred said.

Kindred has gone skiing and snowboarding with Lentz and Law in the past. He said the two had only skied at resorts in Colorado, so they wouldn’t have been familiar with the backcountry trails.

“I just wish I could have been with them to stop them from going down those lanes,” said Kindred, who used to live in Colorado.

Lentz and Law were reportedly traversing the top of a ridge with their five companions at about 5 p.m. Saturday when they triggered the avalanche. The group was located on Star Peak about a mile from the LaPlata parking area off Colorado Highway 82 on the Twin Lakes side of Independence Pass in Lake County.

The five survivors were accounted for after the slide. Of those, three were taken to St. Vincent Hospital in Leadville with injuries that reportedly included a broken leg, a broken ankle and a possible broken rib and collapsed lung.

The Lake County Office of Emergency Management would not identify the injured parties. One of those three has since been released from the hospital.

Two other members of the party escaped the avalanche unharmed.

Lentz and Law went unaccounted for after Saturday’s avalanche. The Lake County Sheriff’s Office announced at approximately 12:30 p.m. Sunday that search and rescuers had recovered their bodies.

Both men were wearing avalanche beacons, Susan Matthews, public information officer for the Lake County Office of Emergency Management, told the Associated Press.

The cause of the avalanche remains under investigation, said Brian Lazar, deputy director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

Among the participating agencies in the search and rescue effort were the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, the Lake County Emergency Manager, Lake County Public Works, St. Vincent Hospital EMS, Leadville/Lake County Fire and Rescue, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, Colorado Rapid Avalanche Deployment and Lake County Search and Rescue teams.

Three members of the Summit County Rescue Group also participated in search and rescue efforts, said that group’s public information officer Charles Pitman.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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