Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2002-02-24
Submitted By: Dale Atkins; CAIC
Place: Near Flat Top Mountain / Miner Basin in Northeast Mesa County
State: CO
Country: USA
Fatalities: 1
Summary: 1 snowmobiler caught, buried, and killed

Miner Basin, CO

February 24, 2002

1 snowmobiler caught, buried, and killed

Provisional Report -- Report subject to change as

more information is learned.

Date & Time: February 24, 2002; approximately 2:30 pm

Location

Near Flat Top Mountain / Miner Basin in Northeast Mesa

County, about 8 miles soutu-southwest of the Sunlight ski

area, and about 11 miles northwest of Redstone.

Elevation: 10,160 feet

Aspect: North-northwest

CAIC forecaster Rob Hunker, Tom Hayes, Sunlight Ski

Patrol, and Lanny Grant, Colorado Snowmobile

Association visited the accident site on 2/25. Thank you to

Rob and Tom for the photographs.

On Sunday afternoon a 19-year-old male snowmobiler was

buried and killed in an avalanche in northeastern Mesa

County. [We had originally been told the accident occurred

in northwest Pitkin County.] The victim was a member of a

group of eight snowmobilers. The group carried no

avalanche rescue gear and had to use branches and sticks

to probe the snow. They used the windshields from their

machines to dig the man free. The victim was found close

to his nearly buried snowmobile after being buried for

about 30 minutes. [Review of accidents show that riders are

nearly 2 times more likely to be buried than their

snowmobile and are frequently found close to and typically

a short distance uphill of the their machine.] Efforts by

companions to resuscitate their friend failed.

The soft-slab avalanche (SS-AV-3-O) was triggered by the

victim or by another rider who was crossing the

bowl-shaped slope above the victim. That rider escaped to

the side. This medium-sized avalanche was about 300 feet

across and released 2 feet deep and ran on an old-snow

surface. This was snow that at the end of last week. The

avalanche did not fracture on the weak depth hoar along the

ground. The avalanche released on an old wind (maybe

even melt freeze) crust just above the faceted sugar snow.

The avalanche released on a 37-degree slope that faces

north-northwest (NNW). The fracture line was at an

elevation of just below 10,200 feet, and the avalanche ran

about 400 vertical feet.

This group of snowmobilers had triggered two small

avalanches earlier in the day, before triggering the fatal

avalanche. A small natural avalanche had also run in the

same gully as the triggered avalanches. Unfortunately the

group had no avalanche awareness training and tragically

failed to recognize the immediate threat and risk these

avalanches foretold.

Some members of this group have been riding in this area

since the mid 1990s.

The backcountry avalanche danger rating for the Central

Mountains issued the morning of February 24, was: "overall

MODERATE, with areas of CONSIDERABLE especially

above 11,000 feet."

Atkins, Feb. 25, 2002