Detailed Accident Report
Submitted By: CAIC; Dale Atkins
Place: Mt Belford in the Sawatch Range west of Buena Vista
Summary: 3 Skiers Caught, 2 Partly Buried, 1 injured (frostbite) and 1 Buried and Killed
Report from CAIC; Dale Atkins
Elkhead Pass, Mount Belford, Sawatch Range,
February 22, 2003
3 Skiers Caught, 2 Partly Buried, 1 injured (frostbite) and 1 Buried and Killed
On Sunday afternoon a 57-year-old Denver man was buried and killed in a slab avalanche below Elkhead
Pass near Mount Belford (14,197 feet) in the Sawatch Range. The man accompanied by his son and a family
friend were during a multi-day backcountry ski tour. Their plan was to ski south from Vickburg, ascended
Missouri Gulch, cross Elkhead Pass into Missouri Basin and follow Pine Creek out. They were very familar
with the area from summer climbing trips and had planned this trip for months.
The men were leery of descending the short, steep, leeward slopes below Elkhead Pass (between Belford
and Missouri Mountain). Just below the pass the men removed their skis and started started to climb down to
some rocky ribs a short distance below the pass. At about 3 pm and only 50ish feet below the pass the snow
collapsed and fractures shot out as one man approached some rocks.
A very small avalanche caught all three men and swept them downslope. The son and family friend were
partly buried to their waist. It took about 10 minutes for the son to dig himself free. He hurried 15 feet
upslope to his father's backpack where his father was buried face down and not breathing. He started CPR
and after several minutes got a pulse but had to continue to assist his father's breathing for sometime. His
father did not regain consciousness.
The two men were able to get their unconscious companion into their tent where they monitored his condition
throughout the evening. Around midnight the man died.
The men triggered a very small soft avalanche that we classified as SS-AF-2-O. The fracture line depth
generally ranged from 2-3 feet in depth by about 100 feet across. The avalanche started at about 13,00 feet
and fell approximately 100 vertical feet down the southerly-facing slope. From the map the measures 40
degrees and this matches the estimate of 40-45 degrees.
The men carried shovels and probes but not transceivers (though transceivers would not have changed the
outcome of this accident). The men where very experienced in the mountains and in winter conditions. The
trio recognized the avalanche danger, were well aware of the blowing snow and the loading on the leeward
slopes. They even experienced some collapsing earlier in the day. The men had a feeling of "uncertainty" about
the slope but were so close to rocks they chose to continue. They only wanted to descend to the flats below
the pass to set up camp.
We will post maps and additional information by Wednesday afternoon 2/26/2003.
Please visit: www.denverpost.com
Avalanche kills architect, 57
3 on ski tour buried in snowslide; 2
hike 20 miles to safety
By Kit Miniclier and George Merritt
Denver Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, February 25, 2003 - Just hours after
surviving an avalanche that claimed the life of his
father, Chris Dale and a friend hiked 20 miles
through deep snow to safety.
Braving a howling blizzard and temperatures of 20
to 30 degrees below zero, the two men had left
the body of Curt Dale, 57, an avid outdoorsman
and noted Denver architect, in the tent where they
had tried to revive him after all three were buried
in the avalanche Saturday afternoon. The elder
Dale's death was the second avalanche fatality in
Colorado this season.
The slide that buried both Dales and family friend
Bob Redwine, 55, took place about 12,800 feet up
Mount Belford in the Sawatch Range northwest of
Buena Vista, said Chaffee County Sheriff Tim
Conditions were ripe for such accidents even
before the weekend's snowstorms. On Monday,
the Colorado Avalanche Information Center listed
avalanche danger as high. At least 80 avalanches
were reported in the preceding 24 hours. Experts
say that is likely only a fraction of the real number
of slides in the backcountry over that time.
On Monday, a man from Littleton suffered a
broken arm when he was buried in an avalanche
near the Arapahoe Basin Resort. And Saturday's
accident happened less than a week after the
state's first avalanche fatality. On Feb. 17,
Kenneth Booker, 48, of Ken- Caryl was buried in
an avalanche near the Loveland Ski Area. His
body was recovered a day later.
In an average winter in Colorado, 2,000
avalanches are spotted and reported to the
Colorado Avalanche Information Center. Last
winter, avalanches, known as the white death,
killed eight people in Colorado. From the winter of
1985 through the winter of 2000-2001, they
claimed a national record of 97 lives throughout
the state. Alaska was second, with 63 deaths in
the same period.
The trio involved in the Mount Belford slide began
their planned three-day ski tour from the old ghost
town of Vicksburg, between Leadville and Buena
Vista, near Granite.
They were aware of the danger of avalanches.
Unstable snow conditions prompted them to skip
Elk Head Pass and move on to Mount Belford, said
Scott Toepfer of the Colorado Avalanche
Information Center. "They started walking down
and triggered a slab of snow about 2 to 3 feet
deep and 200 feet wide, which slid downhill about
300 feet," Toepfer said.
The younger Dale, 25, and Redwine managed to
dig themselves out. They then dug out the older
Dale, who "showed no signs of life," Walker said.
After they administered CPR for an hour, Dale
revived briefly, "but expired later that night,"
The father and son's family called Walker's office
Sunday night to report the group overdue. A
search team met the survivors at a trailhead
about dawn Monday, Walker said. "The son was
pretty shaken up," after spending the night in a
tent with his dying father and then hiking nearly
24 hours through 3-foot deep snow, the sheriff
Dale was a partner in the nationally recognized
architectural firm of Anderson Mason Dale
Architects of Denver. On his watch, the firm
designed Denver's Ocean Journey, two University
of Colorado buildings and the reconstructed
facilities at Mount Rushmore.
Over the years, Dale climbed all of Colorado's
fourteeners as well as Mt. Rainier in Washington
and Alaska's Denali. News of his death shocked
friends and colleagues.
"He was an accomplished architect who was
always really involved in the community," but his
true passion was the outdoors, said friend and
partner Paul Haack.
Ron Mason, who was Dale's partner at the firm for
27 years and was reached with Dale's family in
Buena Vista, where they await the retrieval of the
body, said Monday night, "Curt died doing what he
loved to do the most, which was climbing
mountains. He was a very savvy, wise
mountaineer. ... but unfortunately the avalanche
"The profession loses someone like this very
rarely," said Cab Childress, at architect at the
University of Denver.
"This is a tight-knit family, and we have lost
someone at the height of his career," added
Childress, who said he admired Dale for his
professional toughness and personal humanity.
An admiring competitor, architect Gary Desmond,
reached in San Diego, said, "I've known him for
30 years. We've been good friends the entire
time. ... We were competitors, but respectful and
friendly. We would call each other when we
Another competitor, Curt Fentress, said Dale "was
always smiling. He was always jovial no matter
how tough the project was."
Fentress said Dale was a manager, handling the
business details, running the firm and "making
sure projects get done on deadline."
-Denver Post Staff Writer Mark Couch contributed
to this report