Detailed Accident Report

Back to accidents page

Date: 2003-02-22
Submitted By: CAIC; Dale Atkins
Place: Mt Belford in the Sawatch Range west of Buena Vista
State: CO
Country: USA
Fatalities: 1
Summary: 3 Skiers Caught, 2 Partly Buried, 1 injured (frostbite) and 1 Buried and Killed

Report from CAIC; Dale Atkins


Elkhead Pass, Mount Belford, Sawatch Range,

February 22, 2003

3 Skiers Caught, 2 Partly Buried, 1 injured (frostbite) and 1 Buried and Killed

On Sunday afternoon a 57-year-old Denver man was buried and killed in a slab avalanche below Elkhead

Pass near Mount Belford (14,197 feet) in the Sawatch Range. The man accompanied by his son and a family

friend were during a multi-day backcountry ski tour. Their plan was to ski south from Vickburg, ascended

Missouri Gulch, cross Elkhead Pass into Missouri Basin and follow Pine Creek out. They were very familar

with the area from summer climbing trips and had planned this trip for months.

The men were leery of descending the short, steep, leeward slopes below Elkhead Pass (between Belford

and Missouri Mountain). Just below the pass the men removed their skis and started started to climb down to

some rocky ribs a short distance below the pass. At about 3 pm and only 50ish feet below the pass the snow

collapsed and fractures shot out as one man approached some rocks.

A very small avalanche caught all three men and swept them downslope. The son and family friend were

partly buried to their waist. It took about 10 minutes for the son to dig himself free. He hurried 15 feet

upslope to his father's backpack where his father was buried face down and not breathing. He started CPR

and after several minutes got a pulse but had to continue to assist his father's breathing for sometime. His

father did not regain consciousness.

The two men were able to get their unconscious companion into their tent where they monitored his condition

throughout the evening. Around midnight the man died.

Avalanche Summary

The men triggered a very small soft avalanche that we classified as SS-AF-2-O. The fracture line depth

generally ranged from 2-3 feet in depth by about 100 feet across. The avalanche started at about 13,00 feet

and fell approximately 100 vertical feet down the southerly-facing slope. From the map the measures 40

degrees and this matches the estimate of 40-45 degrees.

The men carried shovels and probes but not transceivers (though transceivers would not have changed the

outcome of this accident). The men where very experienced in the mountains and in winter conditions. The

trio recognized the avalanche danger, were well aware of the blowing snow and the loading on the leeward

slopes. They even experienced some collapsing earlier in the day. The men had a feeling of "uncertainty" about

the slope but were so close to rocks they chose to continue. They only wanted to descend to the flats below

the pass to set up camp.

We will post maps and additional information by Wednesday afternoon 2/26/2003.



Please visit:

Avalanche kills architect, 57

3 on ski tour buried in snowslide; 2

hike 20 miles to safety

By Kit Miniclier and George Merritt

Denver Post Staff Writers

Tuesday, February 25, 2003 - Just hours after

surviving an avalanche that claimed the life of his

father, Chris Dale and a friend hiked 20 miles

through deep snow to safety.

Braving a howling blizzard and temperatures of 20

to 30 degrees below zero, the two men had left

the body of Curt Dale, 57, an avid outdoorsman

and noted Denver architect, in the tent where they

had tried to revive him after all three were buried

in the avalanche Saturday afternoon. The elder

Dale's death was the second avalanche fatality in

Colorado this season.

The slide that buried both Dales and family friend

Bob Redwine, 55, took place about 12,800 feet up

Mount Belford in the Sawatch Range northwest of

Buena Vista, said Chaffee County Sheriff Tim


Conditions were ripe for such accidents even

before the weekend's snowstorms. On Monday,

the Colorado Avalanche Information Center listed

avalanche danger as high. At least 80 avalanches

were reported in the preceding 24 hours. Experts

say that is likely only a fraction of the real number

of slides in the backcountry over that time.

On Monday, a man from Littleton suffered a

broken arm when he was buried in an avalanche

near the Arapahoe Basin Resort. And Saturday's

accident happened less than a week after the

state's first avalanche fatality. On Feb. 17,

Kenneth Booker, 48, of Ken- Caryl was buried in

an avalanche near the Loveland Ski Area. His

body was recovered a day later.

In an average winter in Colorado, 2,000

avalanches are spotted and reported to the

Colorado Avalanche Information Center. Last

winter, avalanches, known as the white death,

killed eight people in Colorado. From the winter of

1985 through the winter of 2000-2001, they

claimed a national record of 97 lives throughout

the state. Alaska was second, with 63 deaths in

the same period.

The trio involved in the Mount Belford slide began

their planned three-day ski tour from the old ghost

town of Vicksburg, between Leadville and Buena

Vista, near Granite.

They were aware of the danger of avalanches.

Unstable snow conditions prompted them to skip

Elk Head Pass and move on to Mount Belford, said

Scott Toepfer of the Colorado Avalanche

Information Center. "They started walking down

and triggered a slab of snow about 2 to 3 feet

deep and 200 feet wide, which slid downhill about

300 feet," Toepfer said.

The younger Dale, 25, and Redwine managed to

dig themselves out. They then dug out the older

Dale, who "showed no signs of life," Walker said.

After they administered CPR for an hour, Dale

revived briefly, "but expired later that night,"

Walker said.

The father and son's family called Walker's office

Sunday night to report the group overdue. A

search team met the survivors at a trailhead

about dawn Monday, Walker said. "The son was

pretty shaken up," after spending the night in a

tent with his dying father and then hiking nearly

24 hours through 3-foot deep snow, the sheriff


Dale was a partner in the nationally recognized

architectural firm of Anderson Mason Dale

Architects of Denver. On his watch, the firm

designed Denver's Ocean Journey, two University

of Colorado buildings and the reconstructed

facilities at Mount Rushmore.

Over the years, Dale climbed all of Colorado's

fourteeners as well as Mt. Rainier in Washington

and Alaska's Denali. News of his death shocked

friends and colleagues.

"He was an accomplished architect who was

always really involved in the community," but his

true passion was the outdoors, said friend and

partner Paul Haack.

Ron Mason, who was Dale's partner at the firm for

27 years and was reached with Dale's family in

Buena Vista, where they await the retrieval of the

body, said Monday night, "Curt died doing what he

loved to do the most, which was climbing

mountains. He was a very savvy, wise

mountaineer. ... but unfortunately the avalanche

got him."

"The profession loses someone like this very

rarely," said Cab Childress, at architect at the

University of Denver.

"This is a tight-knit family, and we have lost

someone at the height of his career," added

Childress, who said he admired Dale for his

professional toughness and personal humanity.

An admiring competitor, architect Gary Desmond,

reached in San Diego, said, "I've known him for

30 years. We've been good friends the entire

time. ... We were competitors, but respectful and

friendly. We would call each other when we

needed advice."

Another competitor, Curt Fentress, said Dale "was

always smiling. He was always jovial no matter

how tough the project was."

Fentress said Dale was a manager, handling the

business details, running the firm and "making

sure projects get done on deadline."

-Denver Post Staff Writer Mark Couch contributed

to this report