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Date: 2000-01-25
Submitted By: WWAN
Place: near Arapahoe Basin
State: CO
Country: USA
Fatalities: 1
Summary: Backcountry snowboarder caught buried and killed

From Skinet

Colorado Avalanche

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

Sunday.

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

next-of-kin.

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

said.

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

several hours.

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.