Skier killed in Berthoud Pass avalanche marks 4th death this season

Grand County Search and Rescue responded Saturday, Dec. 26, to a call of an overdue backcountry skier. Rescuers found a body in an avalanche on Berthoud Pass.
Photo from Grand County Search and Rescue

BERTHOUD PASS — A solo backcountry skier was killed in an avalanche Saturday, Dec. 26, on Berthoud Pass in nearby Grand County.

Grand County Search and Rescue responded to a call of an overdue backcountry skier at about 3 p.m. Saturday. The skier was in the area of Chimney Chute in the First Creek Drainage of Berthoud Pass, according to a report from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

Search and rescue volunteers found a recent avalanche in the area when they arrived. Crews searched the avalanche path and found the skier fully buried, according to rescue team officials.

The skier was transported to the trailhead and transferred to the Grand County coroner. The coroner has not released any information about the skier.

The avalanche occurred on a narrow, northeast-facing slope below tree line at about 11,000 feet, according to the Avalanche Information Center, which had forecasters on-site Sunday, Dec. 27.

The avalanche death is the fourth this season.

On Dec. 18, a solo skier was buried and killed in an avalanche in the Anthracite Range just west of Crested Butte. The next day, two backcountry skiers were caught and killed in a slide in an area called Battleship to the southeast of Ophir Pass near Telluride.

The four fatalities already represent more than half of the six recorded avalanche deaths during the entire 2019-20 season.

Over the past decade, Colorado has averaged 5.9 avalanche fatalities a year, according to data collected by the Avalanche Information Center. But center Director Ethan Greene said Dec. 21 that this year already has been troublesome.

Green said the cause is likely a “once in a decade” weak base layer of snow caused by early snowfall in October followed by a dry November.

Because it is an unusual year, Greene said backcountry users shouldn’t rely on their experience or familiarity with certain areas and should consider setting different routes and goals that are safe under current conditions.

Before heading out into the backcountry, individuals should always be sure to check the Avalanche Information Center’s backcountry avalanche forecast, which rates the danger on a scale from low to extreme, along with providing more detailed insights about specific aspects, elevations, weather and more.

The danger level for the Vail and Summit County region is currently considerable above tree line — meaning human-triggered avalanches are likely. On Sunday, the danger was rated moderate near and below tree line, but danger was expected to increase Monday to considerable near and above tree line.

Additional snow in the forecast this week remains a variable for the avalanche danger.

The mountains in Summit County tallied about 4 inches of fresh snow Sunday morning with another 6-12 inches expected to fall through Tuesday evening, according to Open Snow meteorologist Sam Collentine.

Temperatures in the coming days are expected to be in the single digits overnight with daytime highs in the 20s, according to the National Weather Service office in Boulder.

Those who choose to head out into the backcountry should make sure they’re properly equipped and trained in the use of necessary gear, like a shovel, probe and avalanche transceiver.

Summit County Rescue Group spokesperson Charles Pitman recommended that backcountry users also pick up a personal satellite tracker, which can send precise coordinates to emergency responders in the event of an avalanche or serious injury.

This story is from Sawyer D’Argonne contributed to this report.

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