Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2008-02-01
Submitted By: CAIC
Place: Little Box Canyon area north of Rifle
State: CO
Country: USA
Fatalities: 1
Summary: 1 snowmobile caught, buried, and killed.



A party of 3 snowmobilers was coming down Little Box Canyon, in the southwestern Flat Tops north of the town of Rifle. The groomed snowmobile trail runs near a very steep slope. The first two riders noticed that the third was no longer behind them. The pair turned around and headed up canyon. They found a fresh avalanche on the steep slope. The last snowmobiler may have triggered the avalanche while trying to highmark the slope. None of the party had avalanche rescue gear. One rider stayed to search while the other rode to the trailhead and called 911. Garfield County Search and Rescue responded, including an avalanche dog and handler. The dog alerted on the body, which was recovered Friday afternoon.

The avalanche occurred on an east aspect below treeline. The slope was very steep, around 40 degrees at the crown. The avalanche was a soft slab that started shallow and stepped down to deeper layers. The crown was 1.5 to 3 feet deep. The slide was about 600 feet wide and ran 300 feet. Debris piled up as deep as 10 feet. There was an adjacent, sympathetic avalanche.

Logan, 20080201


Avalanche kills one north of Rifle Gap

Report says it happened at 12:30 p.m.

By Phillip Yates, Heidi Rice and Pete Fowler

Post Independent Staff

February 1, 2008

Garfield County Search and Rescue responded to a report of an avalanche in the Little Box Canyon area north of Rifle Friday afternoon where they found the body of a 45-year-old male who had been snowmobiling in the area.

Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario said the county search and rescue team found

the man buried in the snow two miles past Little Box Canyon north of Rifle Falls about

3 p.m. Friday. The victim?s name was not immediately released.

It was believed he was buried under the snow for quite a while before being discovered, according to Vallario.

The Rifle Fire Protection District received the initial call about a person being stuck in the snow at 12:12 p.m., said Tanny McGinnis, a spokeswoman for the sheriff?s office.

Immediately after responding to the scene, Garfield County sheriff?s deputies paged the county?s search and rescue team around 12:30 p.m.

Lt. Rob Jones with the Rifle Fire Department said emergency personnel left the avalanche scene at 3:30 p.m.

There have not been any avalanches or snowmobile deaths in that area in recent memory, said Kyle Costanzo, a member of the Rifle Snowmobile Club.

?Although (a snowmobiler) was killed a few years back in the Four Mile area,? he added.

Costanzo said late Friday afternoon that he did not know if the victim in Friday?s accident was a member of the Rifle Snowmobile Club.

Four people in Colorado have died in avalanches this winter before this incident,

said Spencer Logan of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

On average, six die from avalanches each year in the state, Logan said. The man?s

death comes after two skiers were killed by avalanches in separate incidents in the

East Vail Chutes this winter. They were the first fatalities in the avalanche-prone

backcountry area, near the boundary of Vail Ski Resort, in more than a decade.

Snowboarder Jesse Brigham, 27, died Jan. 4 in an avalanche in the East Vail

Chutes. Eight days later and several hundred yards away, another slide killed local

skier Matthew Gustafson, 33.

A week ago, a skier was caught in a shallow avalanche in the East Vail Chutes but

managed to escape without injury. The slide carried the skier over some cliffs before

he was able to escape it, the report said.

In the wake of the avalanche Friday, Logan said ?the avalanche danger was

considerable above treeline? and that below the treeline it was moderate. He

explained ?considerable? means human-triggered avalanches are likely to happen

and ?moderate danger? means human-triggered avalanches are possible.

Logan said he didn?t know details about the incident, but said most of the terrain in

the area north of Rifle is below treeline. He recommended staying out of noticeable

avalanche chutes and checking avalanche forecasts at

But he added that even slopes as small as 50 to 100 vertical feet can produce

dangerous avalanches in certain conditions.

The Vail Daily contributed to this report.