Detailed Accident Report
Submitted By: WWAN via CAIC
Place: Near Crystal Peak
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
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
?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
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
www.cbavalanchecenter.org or call 349-4022