Search crews trek to find skier trapped in avalanche
LOVELAND – Two Summit County ski patrollers and an avalanche dog named Chewy were among those sent to find a skier who may have been trapped Monday afternoon in two avalanches that merged in Dry Gulch, a backcountry area about 2 miles east of Loveland Ski Area.
The slide occurred near the Continental Divide on Hagar Mountain, about 2 miles north of the Eisenhower Tunnel on Interstate 70, said Knox Williams, director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.
As of Monday evening, officials didn’t know if the skier was trapped or buried in the slide. The slide was reported to be about 300 feet wide and 200 feet long, and rescuers were gearing up for a long night in the backcountry said Randy Linville, a dispatcher with the Clear Creek County Sheriff’s office.
Dispatchers received a call around 3:30 p.m. from a person with the skier who may have been trapped. Dispatchers sent Alpine Search and Rescue officials into the gulch shortly after 5 p.m.
Flight For Life and Keystone Ski Resort, which have an automatic response system to help neighboring counties with emergencies, sent the dog, its handler and a ski patroller to assist in the rescue. Chewy is one of two dogs that work at Keystone. The patrollers were Tom Zimmer and C.B. Thomas.
“We’re the closest professional organization that has avalanche dogs,” said Mike Lee, Keystone Resort public relations director. “In a case like this, you have about 30 minutes. That’s why we fly. Speed is a necessity.”
The gulch is popular with snowmobilers, backcountry skiers, snowshoers and hikers, Linville said.
A storm dropped 4-5 inches of snow Sunday, Williams said, raising the avalanche danger to “considerable.” Loveland Ski Area reported 4 inches of snow Sunday night and 13 inches of snowfall in the past 72 hours.
Brad Sawtell, an avalanche forecaster with the Breckenridge office of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, said he saw six natural slides in Peaks 5 and 6 in Summit County, where he skied Monday.
He said Summit County avalanche conditions also are rated “considerable.”
“That means natural slides are possible, and human-
triggered slides are probable,” he said. “Things definitely have changed since Friday. The avalanche danger is perfect right now. It’s not the kind of snowpack you want to fall into right now. It’s not worth getting on anything steeper than 30 degrees. The ingredients are there. It just needs a trigger.”
Sawtell said backcountry enthusiasts should use slope meters more often than they do.
“Too many people guess,” he said. “They’ll spend $300 on a transceiver, but that’s after-the-fact. You can avoid avalanches by using a slope meter. That’s the best way to tell if you’re in avalanche terrain. And why would you guess on something like that? A backcountry user should be proud they only practice with their transceivers and never have to use it.”
– The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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