Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2001-11-28
Submitted By: Dale Atkins; CAIC
Place: Rollins Pass near Boulder, Yankee Doodle Lake
State: CO
Country: USA
Fatalities: 1
Summary: 2 backcountry skiers caught, 1 buried and killed

Yankee Doodle Lake, CO

2 backcountry skiers caught, 1 buried and

killed (drowning?)

Provisional Report -- Report subject to change as

more information is learned.

Date & Time: November 28, at approximately 1300 hrs.


Yankee Doodle Lake, East side of Rollins Pass, Front

Range, approximately 3.5 miles west of the Eldora ski area.

Elevation: 11,300 feet, at timberline

Aspect: Southeast (120 degrees)

Slope Angle: 34 to 36+ degrees

Avalanche Data

The avalanche was classified as HSAS3O/G (hard slab,

artificial-skier trigger, medium size, running on old

snow/ground). The crown (fracture line) was 2 to 5 feet,

and 400 feet wide. About half way down the slope the

avalanche was funneled to a width of 223 feet. The

avalanche released from a southeast-facing slope and fell

600 vertical feet and stopped by crashing through the

10-inch thick ice of Yankee Doodle Lake. The displaced

water resulted in a surge 10-12 feet tall along the south


The snowpack at the crown was uniform and hard (pencil)

except at the ground. The bottom 2 inches consisted of

soft (4 finger hardness), loose, beginning faceted (sugar

snow). In places along and immediately below the crown

was old summer snow or neve. (We were not able to safely

approach the neve. There is a possibility this "old" snow is

not neve but is more recent snow (October) that developed

a hard melt-freeze crust.)

Contributory weather factors

Weather data is still being collected. An estimated 12 inches

of new snow fell in the area between November 23 and 28.

"Heavy blowing snow" was reported at Eldora Mountain

Resort on the night of November 26/27. The morning of the

28th dawned sunny.

Accident Summary

Early Wednesday afternoon two local Boulder-county men

were skiing the open slope above Yankee Doodle Lake

when they triggered a sizable hard-slab avalanche. The

avalanche struck the ice-covered lake and shattered the ice,

dumping both men into the water. The pair were skilled and

avalanche-savvy backcountry skiers who were

well-equipped for a day in the mountains. One man died

(drowned?). His friend escaped, but unable to find his

missing partner, he hiked back to the Eldora ski area to get


This was the men's third day in a row on this slope where

two days earlier they had enjoyed terrific powder skiing.

Before starting their descent the pair dug a snow pit.

Apparently satisfied with what they had found, they agreed

to ski short distances one-at-a-time, taking turns watching

each other while the other would wait at a "safe" spot. The

first man (survivor) skied a short distance to flatter-bench

area and traversed toward some rocks to avoid a much

steeper cliff area. He glanced back over his shoulder and

spotted his friend who had just started down. He then

realized the entire slope was moving. The avalanche left

both men in Yankee Doodle Lake.

The survivor ended up nearly in the middle of the lake

approximately 190 feet from shore. Packed in shattered ice

and water he struggled to the shore. Yells for his friend

brought no response and he could not detect a signal from

his friend's avalanche beacon. His waterlogged cell phone

did not work, so he set out for help. He hiked down the

Jenny Creek trail the 5 miles to Eldora Mountain Resort.


The Eldora Ski Patrol responded first followed by

members of the Rocky Mountain Rescue Group. Arriving

as darkness fell the hasty search was organized. Searchers

tried to detect a beacon signal but could not, so probe

poles were used to search likely burial areas. More rescuers

arrived including avalanche rescue dogs. The rescuers

could not search the shattered ice and water until later that

evening when trained dive-rescuers arrived with specialized

rubber suits. After 2300 hours that evening a dive-rescue

team member searching the refreezing surface detected a

signal. The missing man was found 91 feet off shore in the

frozen snow, ice and water.


These men were smart and savvy backcountry skiers who

were doing things by the book yet still got into trouble. At

the time of the accident (and in the days before the

accident) we were rating the backcountry avalanche danger

in all mountain areas at CONSIDERABLE. Triggered

avalanche releases were probable, and natural avalanches

were possible on NW to NE to SE facing-slopes near and

above tree line. The avalanche the men triggered occurred

on an ESE to SE facing-slope at tree line.

Before rushing to judgment, remember both men were

backcountry and avalanche smart. They had the right

equipment and knowledge to be out in the terrain, snow,

and weather conditions. Boulder County Sheriff George

Epp said it well in the Daily Camera newspaper

(11/30/2001, page 5A) when he was quoted "If you try to

get a lesson out of this...the mountains can be dangerous

no matter how prepared you are."

This is the first Colorado avalanche death in Colorado in

the 2001-2002 winter, and second in the United States.

Incidents where avalanche victims are swept into water and

drowned uncommon but not unheard of. In 1978 at Twin

Lakes, California, a county snowplow and a pickup with

two occupants were swept into the unfrozen Lower Twin

Lake. The snowplow operator swam to shore. Twenty

minutes later a motorist stopped by the earlier avalanche

climbed on to the debris where he was caught by a second

avalanche and swept into the lake. All three motorists

drowned. In 1981, near Elko, Nevada, a snowmobiler was

caught and swept into an ice-covered lake and drowned.

Atkins 11/30/01

(Thanks to Bill May, RMRG for enhancing some of the



From KUSA TV Denver,

Backcountry Snowboarder Killed in Avalanche

Story by Marc Sternfield November 29, 2001 - 10:11am

The body of 29 year-old Joe Despres was found in a lake around midnight.

Despres was snowboarding with a friend, 47-year old Peter Vaughn, near Rollins Pass about 25 miles west of Boulder yesterday when the avalanche happened.

The Boulder County Sheriff's Department says Vaughn was able to free himself from the snow and hike three miles to the Eldora ski area. He told the ski patrol that Despres was trapped in the avalanche.

After an extensive search on the ground and in the air, a dive team recovered Despres's body about 50 feet from the shore of Yankee Doodle Lake. He was under three feet of water, the emergency services coordinator for the sheriff's office said in a news release.

Vaughn was in stable condition this morning at the Boulder Community Hospital after receiving treatment for hypothermia and frostbite. Both men were from the Nederland area.