Skier killed in avalanche north of Silverthorne on Wednesday, when danger was rated moderate
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include plans by Summit County Rescue Group to recover the victim Friday. The headline also has been updated to correct that the avalanche danger was moderate when the accident happened Wednesday. It was raised to considerable Wednesday night.
SILVERTHORNE — A backcountry skier was killed in an avalanche Wednesday afternoon on Red Peak, according to Summit County Rescue Group.
It’s the first avalanche death in Summit County since April 2018.
At about 1:40 p.m. Wednesday, the rescue group volunteers were notified of a skier-triggered avalanche on Red Peak, in the Gore Range north of Silverthorne. Information about the slide was initially obtained through the activation of a personal emergency beacon, according to group representatives.
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Three skiers ascended the mountain from the southeast side and spent a short time on the summit before making their way back down. The skiers were on the upper portion of their planned path, a couloir known as Oh What Big Eyes You Have on the north side of the mountain, when a shallow avalanche broke near the most uphill skier.
“The one who was standing right where the crack occurred didn’t actually take a tumble,” said Charles Pitman, spokesperson for the Summit County Rescue Group. “But he realized something happened when the two people below him disappeared. The one who was right below him managed to roll over and right himself onto his skis. But by the time he looked for the third individual, he couldn’t see him.”
The third skier was carried about 1,800 feet and sustained fatal injuries, according to the rescue group. Neither of the other skiers suffered notable injuries. All three skiers were male, according to Pitman.
The skiers were all experienced and well-versed in backcountry recreation. They also were carrying proper backcountry gear — such as avalanche beacons, shovels and probe poles — and one of the men had skied the route on previous occasions.
The rescue team decided not to mount a recovery mission Wednesday night and will wait for more favorable weather and safer conditions before sending a team in, according to Pitman.
“By the time the two other skiers made it back to the trailhead, we had a team that was available to go in,” Pitman said. “But we looked at what that team would be dealing with. We knew the avalanche conditions were bad, and we had a potentially good-sized storm coming in — adding in fading light and the fact that it’s going to be somewhere between an 8- or 9-mile round trip over rugged terrain to load the person up and take them out.
“It’s going to be an extensive operation. We didn’t feel comfortable putting our search and rescue personnel out there with heightened risk factors. Our plan is to wait until the weather clears and reassess.”
Pitman said the group has precise GPS coordinates of the individual, but will have to wait until there’s a good window of decent weather before making their way onto the mountain. The group is planning a mission to recover the victim Friday, according to Pitman. The recovery effort will consist of six to seven volunteer members of the rescue group, along with members of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, who will investigate the accident.
The final decision on whether to send the team will be made Friday morning, depending on weather and avalanche conditions.
The man’s identity will be released by the Summit County Coroner’s Office once his family has been notified.
Ethan Greene, director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, said the area’s avalanche danger was raised Wednesday evening from moderate to considerable, where its expected to stay in the near future until winter weather conditions die down.
“This is what we’ve been seeing over the last week or so, as we have storms come in or wind-loading events,” Greene said. “That’s why you see the danger rated at considerable today with the storm that’s moving through right now. We have storm snow instability, wind drifting — all the things that would cause an increase in avalanche danger. (Wednesday) there was a fair amount of wind, which could have been a contributing factor to this particular accident.”
As community members continue to venture into the backcountry to recreate, Greene urged everyone to take all necessary precautions, be well-informed of the dangers before leaving and to avoid the most dangerous areas.
“With considerable avalanche danger, you need to be really careful of where you are and what type of terrain you’re going to be on,” Greene said. “Read the forecast, understand what’s causing avalanche danger — what types of avalanche problems we’re dealing with, where they’re breaking and what type of terrain avalanches are releasing in — and make a plan to avoid those types of areas.
“If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, then you should stick to really low-angle terrain that is not underneath or next to steeper slopes where avalanches are likely to release.”
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