Detailed Accident Report
Submitted By: WWAN
Place: near Arapahoe Basin
Summary: Backcountry snowboarder caught buried and killed
Season Takes Effect
By Bob Berwyn
Arapahoe Basin,CO Jan.26
An avalanche on a popular backcountry ski run near the
Arapahoe Basin Ski Area caught and killed a
20-year-old snowboarder from Breckenridge, CO.
According to Summit County Sheriff Joe Morales, the
snowboarder was riding in an area known as the Steep Gullies,
about a quarter mile west of the ski area boundary on U.S.
Forest Service land.
The steep, rock-lined chutes are frequently visited by
backcountry enthusiasts, who access the area via a gate that exits
A-Basin Ski Area near the top of the Norway lift. Skiers and
boarders commonly ski the area several times during a day,
hitchhiking up US Highway 6 back to the ski area, where they
use the lifts to gain access to backcountry.
The area is known for dangerous snow slides. The narrow gullies
present a formidable terrain trap, funneling snow to dangerous
depths. Recent heavy snowfall in the mountains has resulted in
widespread cycles of avalanches. Consequently forecasters with
the Colorado Avalanche Information Center have issued an
avalanche warning for parts of the northern and central
mountains. More than 60 slides reportedly hit the center on
It was the third avalanche death in Colorado in a 72-hour period.
Also on Tuesday, a slide caught and killed a 23-year-old skier in
an out-of-bounds area near Aspen Highlands. Another slide killed
a snowshoer near Berthoud Pass Sunday.
"It's probably the second or third fatal accident I've seen up there
in the past six years," Morales said of Tuesday's slide, adding
that the victim's name is being withheld pending notification of
Morales said the snowboarder was
riding with a friend. The pair made one
descent in the area, triggering a slide
along the way.
"Apparently they thought it was pretty
cool, so they did it again," Morales
On their second trip down, they
triggered another slide, with deadly
results. The victim was not wearing an
avalanche beacon, Morales said. The
second snowboarder, apparently
unharmed, attempted to find his friend, but quickly decided to go
for help. Another group of three snowboarders nearby helped
with the initial search, according to reports. It's not clear if all
five were in one party.
"It was a good-size slide," Morales said. "It was a big one. From
looking at it, I'd say it ran about 1,000 to 1,500 feet." The victim
was declared dead at the scene. Morales said the man had
obviously suffered severe trauma, bashing into rocks and trees
during his fatal slide down the mountain.
"It's one of the worst I've seen up there," Morales said, adding
that Tuesday's death is the "third or fourth" avalanche fatality in
that area during the past six years.
According to Morales, rescuers were dispatched to the accident
scene at 1:05 p.m. and arrived on the scene by 1:20 p.m. Search
teams worked at the base of the slide closing the highway for
Morales said trained avalanche dogs alerted searchers to the
presence of the victim at 2:18 p.m. The buried man was located
about six to eight inches below the surface, with an outstretched
hand reaching upward, Morales said.
Morales said extremely hazardous conditions persist in the High
Country, and warned backcountry enthusiasts against traveling in
avalanche-prone terrain. With more snow and wind in the
forecast, conditions are likely to deteriorate before they improve.
The warning issued by the avalanche center covers Summit
County and eastern Eagle County, including the Gore, Tenmile,
and William's Fork ranges. The popular backcountry in the Front
Range vicinity of Loveland pass is also included.
Currently, the CAIC is rating the avalanche danger as
"considerable" to "high" near or above tree line. The rating
means natural and triggered releases are probable, particularly on
north- to southeast-facing slopes.