Detailed Accident Report
Submitted By: Dale Atkins; CAIC
Place: Near Flat Top Mountain / Miner Basin in Northeast Mesa County
Summary: 1 snowmobiler caught, buried, and killed
Miner Basin, CO
February 24, 2002
1 snowmobiler caught, buried, and killed
Provisional Report -- Report subject to change as
more information is learned.
Date & Time: February 24, 2002; approximately 2:30 pm
Near Flat Top Mountain / Miner Basin in Northeast Mesa
County, about 8 miles soutu-southwest of the Sunlight ski
area, and about 11 miles northwest of Redstone.
Elevation: 10,160 feet
CAIC forecaster Rob Hunker, Tom Hayes, Sunlight Ski
Patrol, and Lanny Grant, Colorado Snowmobile
Association visited the accident site on 2/25. Thank you to
Rob and Tom for the photographs.
On Sunday afternoon a 19-year-old male snowmobiler was
buried and killed in an avalanche in northeastern Mesa
County. [We had originally been told the accident occurred
in northwest Pitkin County.] The victim was a member of a
group of eight snowmobilers. The group carried no
avalanche rescue gear and had to use branches and sticks
to probe the snow. They used the windshields from their
machines to dig the man free. The victim was found close
to his nearly buried snowmobile after being buried for
about 30 minutes. [Review of accidents show that riders are
nearly 2 times more likely to be buried than their
snowmobile and are frequently found close to and typically
a short distance uphill of the their machine.] Efforts by
companions to resuscitate their friend failed.
The soft-slab avalanche (SS-AV-3-O) was triggered by the
victim or by another rider who was crossing the
bowl-shaped slope above the victim. That rider escaped to
the side. This medium-sized avalanche was about 300 feet
across and released 2 feet deep and ran on an old-snow
surface. This was snow that at the end of last week. The
avalanche did not fracture on the weak depth hoar along the
ground. The avalanche released on an old wind (maybe
even melt freeze) crust just above the faceted sugar snow.
The avalanche released on a 37-degree slope that faces
north-northwest (NNW). The fracture line was at an
elevation of just below 10,200 feet, and the avalanche ran
about 400 vertical feet.
This group of snowmobilers had triggered two small
avalanches earlier in the day, before triggering the fatal
avalanche. A small natural avalanche had also run in the
same gully as the triggered avalanches. Unfortunately the
group had no avalanche awareness training and tragically
failed to recognize the immediate threat and risk these
Some members of this group have been riding in this area
since the mid 1990s.
The backcountry avalanche danger rating for the Central
Mountains issued the morning of February 24, was: "overall
MODERATE, with areas of CONSIDERABLE especially
above 11,000 feet."
Atkins, Feb. 25, 2002