Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2008-12-27
Submitted By: WWAN
Place: Gravel Mountain - Grand Lake Area
State: CO
Country: USA
Fatalities: 2
Summary: 2 snowmobilers caught, buried, and killed


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2 snowmobilers die in avalanche

Experts say human-triggered slides are likely and urge caution. Some regions got 4 feet of snow and 60-mph winds.

By The Denver Post

Posted: 12/28/2008 12:30:00 AM MST

Updated: 12/28/2008 12:41:13 AM MST

Two snowmobilers were reported killed Saturday by an avalanche in Grand County as the high country began digging out from Friday's storm.

The Grand County Sheriff's Office said in a news release that the snowmobilers were buried by an afternoon avalanche near Gravel Mountain in the Grand Lake area.

The two were part of a group of four Colorado residents, the Sheriff's Office reported. The two who were buried by the slide were declared dead at the scene.

The Grand County coroner is withholding their names pending notification of the families, the Sheriff's Office said.

Another avalanche closed Loveland Pass on Saturday afternoon. The snow was about 4 feet deep, and the avalanche was 100 feet wide. No one was injured, but the pass was expected to be closed all night.

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center said Saturday that, overall, the chances for natural avalanches are decreasing but human-triggered avalanches are still likely in the central mountains. The center urged backcountry travelers to use extra caution.

Since 1950, Colorado has led the nation in avalanche-related deaths with 221. That is more than the next two states Alaska and Washington combined, according to avalanche center data.

Silverton takes brunt

The storm that whipped winds and heavy snow into blinding blizzards across parts of the San Juan Mountains on Christmas Day and Friday hit Silverton especially hard.

Silverton residents are calling the Christmas weather "a storm to remember."

It dumped 4 feet of snow there, plunged the wind chill to minus 35 degrees and brought 60-mph winds screaming down from the peaks, making it impossible to see from house to house. The storm piled 8-foot-high drifts around town.

"They got the brunt of it," said National Weather Service meteorologist Bryon Lawrence.

But fewer than 100 skiers were on the slopes at Silverton Mountain's experts-only ski area Saturday when roads reopened.

Manager Aaron Brill told The Associated Press he would have expected several hundred skiers if not for the weather-related road closures. He estimated a few dozen people canceled reservations Friday and Saturday to ski on the mountain's extreme terrain during the typically busy holiday season.

"It was incredibly deep," Brill said of the snow. "It was pretty cold today, but there was fresh powder everywhere, all day long. If you fell down, it was a hard time getting back up because it was so soft and deep."

He estimated only 20 percent of the resort's terrain was open Saturday, but more untouched powder was expected to open today.

Friday's storm had closed Molas, Coal Bank and Red Mountain passes, boxing Silverton in.

Silverton resident Steph Reigh, of the Avalanche Coffee House & Bakery, said two Boulder men who had come to Silverton to ski over Christmas helped her shovel her walks Friday morning "because they couldn't do anything else."

Those marooned in Silverton were cross-country skiing and sledding around the snow-choked town Friday. Some were being pulled on skis behind cars on the otherwise abandoned downtown streets.

Over the mountains to the south, Durango Mountain Resort received a little more than 2 feet of snow.

Denver Post staff writer Nancy Lofholm and The Associated Press contributed to this report.