Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2010-03-12
Submitted By: CAIC
Place: Near Antora Peak south of Buena Vista
State: CO
Country: USA
Fatalities: 1
Summary: 1 snowmobiler caught, buried, and killed


View report at CAIC site with photos:


New and available snow had been loaded into the start zone near tree line. The path was recently covered with up to 10 inches of powder, making for nice riding conditions.


The snowpack was shallow for this time of the season. Mostly structured as slabs and crusts over weak depth hoar.


A group of five riders enjoying a day of backcountry riding in remote and technical terrain. This area sees very little snowmobile use through the winter as it requires advanced riding skills.


The victim was caught in the avalanche unknown by his party. The party presumably drove up to the accident site within minutes, noticed the avalanche but did not see the victim.


The party, quickly found the victim's snowmobile, partially covered by avalanche debris. They made calls for the victim with no response.They searched with their avalanche beacons near the snowmobile for up to 45 minutes. One of the party members decided to ride further up the slope to get better cell phone reception. While riding, his beacon, still on receive, picked up the victim's signal. The victim was found in approximately 15 minutes (total search time was approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes), buried approximately 3 feet deep and approximately 100 yards uphill from the snowmobile. It appeared that the victim may have been caught up in a small tree and the snowmobile continued downhill. The Saguache County Coroner determined the cause of death to be asphyxiation.


The victim was a well known member in the Salida community. He was an active member of the Chaffee County Rescue group and a long time member of the Heart of the Rockies Snowmobile Club in Salida. He had many years of experience traveling on snowmobiles in backcountry and avalanche terrain. The victim and all members of the party were carrying avalanche rescue equipment.


From the Mountain Mail:

Salidan killed by avalanche

Kevin Hoffman

Mail Staff Writer

Vernon Kelso, 55 of Salida, died after he was buried by an avalanche about 1 p.m. Friday during a snowmobile outing with friends near Sheep Mountain and Antora Peak in the Marshall Pass area.

The call for search and rescue assistance was received in Chaffee County about 1:15 p.m. in the Marshall Pass area between Salida and Villa Grove in Saguache County.

Because of proximity of the county line, rescuers responded from Saguache and Chaffee counties.

The caller reported the victim was caught while driving a snowmobile and was buried 10-12 minutes.

Saguache County Sheriff's Office investigator Mark Werts said Kelso wasn't breathing and had no pulse when he was found.

Werts reported Kelso was wearing an avalanche beacon which helped friends find him under several feet of debris.

Saguache County Coroner Tom Perrin pronounced Kelso dead after he was brought off the mountain about 7:25 p.m.

Authorities reported Kelso was an experienced backcountry snowmobiler who assisted Chaffee County Search and Rescue Teams in the past.

Werts said Kelso recently helped dig out several people partially buried in an avalanche about two miles from where he died Friday.

Rescuers reported they were hampered by deep snow in nearly inaccessible terrain.

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center and Saguache County personnel estimated the slide path ranged from a quarter mile to a mile wide. Werts reported it appeared Kelso's snowmobile triggered the slide.

Avalanche center personnel said the slide began above timberline on the west facing aspect of 13,269-foot Mount Antora.

Rescuers reported no other snowmobilers were caught in the avalanche and there were and no other injuries.

Avalanche danger in the southern Sawatch Mountains was "considerable" Friday. About 4:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon danger in the area was upgraded to "high."

The Avalanche center Web site reported Sunday there have been five avalanche deaths in Colorado this season and 21 nationwide, including Alaska.