Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2002-02-01
Submitted By: WWAN via CAIC
Place: Just beyond the Aspen Highlands ski area boundary
State: CO
Country: USA
Fatalities: 1
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

Aspect: Northerly

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

one hiker.

We will post more information when it becomes

available. Atkins, Feb. 3, 2002.