Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2002-02-06
Submitted By: WWAN via CAIC
Place: Near Crystal Peak
State: CO
Country: USA
Fatalities: 1
Summary: 1 skier caught, buried, and killed wearing a transciever

Crystal Peak, CO

February 6, 2002

1 backcountry skier caught, buried, and


Provisional Report -- Report subject to change as

more information is learned.

Date & Time: February 6, 2002


South of Crystal Peak and east of Friends Hut in the Elk

Mountains, Gunnison county, Colorado

Elevation: approx. 12,000 feet

Aspect: Southwest

On Wednesday, February 6, 2002 a group of six

backcountry skiers were traversing along a ridge on the

south side of Crystal Peak (12,777 ft) in the Elk Range

in Gunnison County. This group had come in from

Aspen & over Pearl Pass to stay at the Friends Hut. The

avalanche victim (telemark skier, male, late 30s) was

about 10-15 minutes ahead of and out-of-sight from the

rest of his group.

It is not known what exactly happened as no one

witnessed the avalanche, but tracks indicate the victim

was traversing across a thin snow cover, only about 4

inches deep. He encountered deeper snow on a

steep--40 degree--convex roll where he triggered an

18-inch-deep fracture line. This fracture eventually

stepped to the ground and the slide ran approximately

300 vertical feet. The hard slab avalanche was about

150 feet wide and released at an elevation 12,000 feet

on a cross-loaded southwest aspect.

Appearantly the group continued up the ridge [though

we are not sure of their exact route] where they spotted

the slide and started a beacon search. They located the

victim in about 3 minutes. Total burial time was

estimated at about 20 minutes. The victim was buried

about 4 feet deep. He was buried near the high-end of

the debris. Th deepest debris was reported at around

8-10 ft deep.

Toepfer and Atkins, Feb. 8, 2002


Search and Rescue called to fatal slide

by Pete Sharp

Members of the Crested Butte Search and Rescue Team responded

Thursday, February 7, to the scene of a deadly avalanche near the Friends

Hut to recover the body of 39-year-old Monte Vista resident David

Rooney. A skiing companion found Rooney, a married father of three and

the Alamosa County attorney, approximately 20 minutes after the

Wednesday afternoon slide; subsequent resuscitation efforts were


On Sunday, six men (four from the Alamosa area and two from the Front

Range) left Ashcroft, near Aspen, for what was intended to be a five-night

hut trip. After spending the first night in the Green-Wilson Hut in between

Ashcroft and Star Pass, the group toured on to the Friends Hut Monday,

which is located at the head of East Brush Creek drainage. Following a

safe day of skiing based out of the Friends Hut Tuesday, five of the six left

the hut Wednesday morning to ski near Crystal Peak and Hunter Hill.

According to ski partner Chris Webster of Boulder, the group planned to

take a route that would lead them over a ridge to Hunter Hill. However,

Rooney, saying his clothes were wet and consequently wanting to stay off

the exposed ridge, skied off by himself, traversing below the ridge on a

southwest aspect near Crystal Peak.

Webster followed but did not close the distance in order to stay relatively

close to the skier behind him. Eventually, Rooney skied out of sight of the

rest of the group. Webster then came upon a recent slide ?a good 10

minutes? behind Rooney, from which no tracks emerged on the other side,

and began a beacon search.

After pinpointing Rooney?s location with the beacon, a shovel search

found him submerged in an upright position with his head beneath

approximately four feet of snow. Another skier on the trip, Kirk Kritner of

Alamosa, began resuscitation efforts immediately but found that until

Rooney was completely uncovered, his chest would not expand due to the

surrounding snow. After several minutes of CPR following more extensive

digging, the pair knew their efforts were not to be rewarded and ceased

resuscitation efforts at 3:20 p.m. Kritner expressed the utter frustration and

sadness of not being able to obtain a pulse.

?It was just horrible,? said Kritner in an interview Tuesday. ?I told Chris

[Webster] we?d done everything we could. He was gone.?

Leaving Rooney?s body at the scene for the night, the pair skied back to the

hut to tell the others and report the incident to emergency dispatchers.

Because night had fallen, the group stayed in the hut for the night and to

remember Rooney.

?Dave was very religious, so that night we read from the Bible he had in

his backpack,? said Kritner. ?Then we all did a toast to him.?

According to Bob Wojtalik, vice president of the Crested Butte Search

and Rescue team and this incident?s mission coordinator, the Pitkin County

Emergency Dispatcher received a call from the Friends Hut Wednesday

afternoon to request the assistance of a recovery team. The Aspen-based

dispatcher then called Gunnison County dispatch, which relayed the

information to Crested Butte Search and Rescue. Because time was no

longer of the essence due to the fatality, the team formulated a plan to be

executed the following day.

Wojtalik said that 11 members of the team left the Brush Creek trailhead at

about 8:30 a.m. on seven snowmobiles. After the snowmobiles eventually

became bogged down in loose, deep snow, the team continued on skis, at

their own pace, to the Friends Hut. Webster escorted Alan Bernholtz, the

first team member to arrive at the hut, to the avalanche debris field.

Upon arrival, Bernholtz assessed the scene and the factors that contributed

to the slide. The region?s avalanche danger for the day of the accident was

rated as moderate with areas of considerable danger. He estimated the

size of the hard slab slide at 150 feet wide and 300 feet long. Rooney was

found (with skis on and clutching one pole) just 10 feet from the edge of

the slide and toward the upper reaches of the six- to eight-feet-deep debris

pile. Bernholtz estimated that the slope on which Rooney was traversing

was approximately 40 degrees. Recent wind had stripped the snow from

the windward aspects, forming a cross-loaded pillow of snow

approximately three feet in depth in the gully.

Bernholtz explained that the slope was definitely steep enough for a slide

to occur. However, the fact that Rooney was hiking on shallow snow

likely contributed to him being caught off guard within a matter of steps

when the snowpack abruptly changed. But still, the fact that he skied ahead

of the others and chose to take the low route instead of the planned ridge

contributed to the accident.

Webster lamented his inability to at least consult with Rooney before he

took off on his fateful route.

?I only wish we were closer together and had the opportunity to discuss

the options,? wrote Webster in a statement given to the Mt. Crested Butte

Police Department.

Kritner praised the search and rescue team, the Mt. Crested Butte Police

Department and the entire staff of the Sheraton Hotel, where the remaining

five skiers were given food and rooms after Rooney?s body had been


?They were absolutely outstanding,? concluded Kritner. ?They made a sad

situation a lot better.?

So far this year in Colorado, three people have died in avalanches. For

up-to-date information on conditions locally, log on to or call 349-4022