Week in Summit: Avalanche partially buries man in Breck backcountry
December 26, 2015
A human-triggered avalanche Saturday, Dec. 19, behind Breckenridge Ski Resort's Peak 10 in the "Numbers" backcountry area, buried a snowboarder up to his neck.
Unsure if anyone had gotten caught in the slide, four skiers who witnessed it reported the incident and Breckenridge Ski Patrol arrived quickly. After the snowboarder was luckily able to free himself from the snow, officials noted no injuries.
"He actually extracted himself," noted Charles Pitman, Summit County Search & Rescue Group coordinator. "The guy was buried up to his neck and had one arm free, so he could dig."
The snowslide was relatively small, measuring approximately 100 feet in width and length, but still had the capacity to do significant damage. A total of eight people — two groups of four — were in that stretch of backcountry at the time of the avalanche.
"Not one of those eight people had a beacon, probe pole or shovel," said Pitman. "People get caught up in the moment. You sort of check caution at the door and follow your friends."
So far this season, search and rescue has been significantly busier compared with last year. The number of rescues varies by the week, but the team is made up of just 55 volunteers, so Pitman suggests backcountry-goers follow a few steps before heading out: Check avalanche forecasts, familiarize yourself with a beacon, probe and shovel and bring them along and always have a companion.
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"We're not telling people not to go into the backcountry because we love the backcountry," he said. "Use your judgment."
Record death rate doesn't come cheap
It's not a milestone to celebrate, but the fact remains, it's been a banner year for death in Summit County.
The causes are varied — among them several drug overdoses and a rise in suicides — but the county has now seen 85 deaths in 2015, an all-time high, with the end of the year still to come.
"There's been a lot of weird deaths this year," said Summit County Coroner Regan Wood. "I'm sure we'll see more at this rate."
The increased number of deaths over previous totals comes with additional costs. From more visits on scene by the coroner, to supply needs like body bags and storage upkeep, to a rise in autopsies for when it's unclear how someone passed, death ain't cheap. The coroner is also taking over the local grief counseling service in 2016, including eight trainees, which comes with additional financial commitments as well.
All of these heightened costs forced Wood to request $37,000 more for her budget than in 2016. That expands the coroner's office budget to $184,000 from the county's general fund, though The Summit Foundation came through with a $11,825 grant to help offset the county's commitment. Of that subsidy, $5,000 is going toward a burial relief fund for local families.
"The economy is better, so there's more travelers and quite a few out-of-town deaths," Wood surmised. "Death is not cheap, as we're finding out this year."
An officer was dispatched to Goods on Main Street in Breckenridge on a report of shoplifting the evening of Dec. 16.
A male suspect allegedly tried to steal a gray suit jacket valued at $200. He had reportedly gotten into a scuffle with employees in the parking lot behind the store and the jacket had been retrieved.
The employees tried to follow the man, but lost sight of him in the Tiger Dredge Lot. The suspect left his personal belongings in the store, which were provided to the officer.
After returning to the Breckenridge Police Department, the officer opened the bag and found court documents. The town of Breckenridge had an active municipal warrant out for the suspect.
The following day, the officer received a tip that the suspect was on a Summit Stage Bus en route to Breckenridge. The officer requested the bus stop at Tiger Road on Highway 9.
The officer boarded the bus and spoke to the man, who was informed of the warrant and escorted to the patrol car. The officer transported the man to the Summit County Jail, where he was booked on the warrant and given a summons for shoplifting.
County spends $400K on open spaces in '15
Through its Open Space and Trails Program, Summit County secured 90 acres of land for protection in 2015.
The 20 open space transactions came at a price of $412,000, helping to preserve important wetlands, safeguard scenic backcountry and provide access to local recreational areas for residents and out-of-towners.
"Recreation in Summit County's incredible mountain environment is the backbone of our local economy," County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier said in a news release. "We're so grateful to Summit County voters, who enable us to make these key purchases that maintain access to trails and open space."
The primary function of the county's Open Space program, established in 1996, is to protect recreational access. According to the department's webpage, in an effort "to preserve and maintain Summit County's rural mountain character," the program has helped designate more than 15,000 acres of land as open space with the county's more than 250 purchases and dedications.
The program is funded by a mill levy approved by voters in four elections, most recently in 2008. The 12-year funding mechanism provides up to $1.2 million in open space purchasing power.
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