Detailed Accident Report
Submitted By: WWAN via CAIC
Place: Just beyond the Aspen Highlands ski area boundary
Summary: 1 skier caught, buried, and killed
Aspen Highlands, CO
February 1, 2002
1 skier caught, buried, and killed
Provisional Report -- Report subject to change as
more information is learned.
Date & Time: February 1, 2002; mid afternoon.
Just beyond the Aspen Highlands ski area boundary,
below the Park Avenue run and near the intersection of
Troyer's Trail and Memory Lane. Aspen, Pitkin County.
Elevation: about 9,000 feet
On Friday afternoon a 67 year-old man was found
buried in a very, very small loose-snow avalanche just
beyond the boundary of the Aspen Highlands ski area.
This unwitnessed and very tragic incident demonstrates
how a series of unintended mishaps can lead to an
accident, and also how a very small loose-snow
avalanche can be deadly, specially for a lone person.
The victim was skiing with friends when he became
separated. His friends waited at the bottom, but when he
failed to arrive they retraced their route. Failing to find
their friend they reported him missing to the ski patrol.
Shortly afterwards a ski patroller spotted the victim's
ski in the snow a short distance below a ski run.
Just beyond the ski area boundary rope the man had
triggered a very narrow 4 to 6-foot wide loose-snow
avalanche. He was carried a short distance down slope
and buried under 18 inches of snow. The corner's
preliminary report tells the man died from asphyxiation.
He was buried for about one hour.
The accident was the result of several unintended
mishaps. This victim did not duck under the boundary
rope and leave the ski run on purpose. The corner found
the man had suffered a "high-impact" fall that
incapacitated the victim and caused him to slide off the
trail. He narrowly missed trees and landed in a very
small pocket of undisturbed faceted sugar-snow. The
resulting loose-snow avalanche was likely one the
smallest fatal avalanches in Colorado. The avalanche
released just over 2 feet deep and to the ground, but was
only a narrow ribbon of snow 4 to 6 feet wide and
traveled only 130 feet (slope distance). This avalanche
is classified as a L-AS-1-G.
Tragically in this accident a series of minor events:
becoming separated from friends, falling hard, sliding
off the run, and being alone resulted in a fatal outcome.
This accident demonstrates that even small avalanches
can be just as deadly as large avalanches. Incapacitated
from his fall the man could not help himself. Had he still
been with someone, he would have survived the
avalanche. This accident also highlights a snow pack
problem that affects most mountain areas at lower
This season's light snowfall has resulted in a shallow
and very weak snowcover. At lower elevations (below
treeline)--in many mountain areas and including the
Aspen area--the snowcover is composed of depth hoar,
or advanced faceted, sugar-like snow. In these areas
there is no slab or cohesive layer of snow, only sugar
snow from top to bottom. This cohesionless, faceted
snowcover is weak and may slough off steep slopes
when pushed. Ski patrols across the state have been
busy trying to strengthen this weak snow by compaction
or by sloughing it off steep areas, but this snow is
practically everywhere. With that said, loose-snow or
point-release avalanches seldom cause serious
problems. In fact in our CAIC publication Avalanche
Wise (CGS Special Publication 48) we wrote "...they
are usually small in size and seldom cause injury or
damage." Fatal loose-snow avalanches in Colorado are
Prior to this accident there had been only one other fatal
avalanche accident in Colorado since 1950 involving
loose snow. (One in 144 fatal avalanche accidents have
involved loose snow; in five additional accidents the
type of avalanche was not known.) That accident
occurred when a small cornice block fell, triggering a
wet loose-snow avalanche in August of 1972, killing
We will post more information when it becomes
available. Atkins, Feb. 3, 2002.