Detailed Accident Report
Submitted By: CAIC
Place: Arapahoe Basin
Summary: 1 in-area skier caught, buried and killed
May 20, 2005
1 in-area skier caught, buried and killed
At about 10:30 this morning a 53-year-old male skier from Boulder was buried and killed in a medium-sized wet slab avalanche at Arapahoe Basin. The avalanche occurred in an area known as the 1st Alley, immediately below the roll on the west side of the Pallavicini Run. This is the fifth Colorado avalanche death of the 2004-05 season and the 27th in the US.
The Arapahoe Basin Ski Patrol responded immediately and were soon joined by members of the Summit County Rescue Group. A portion of the victim's ski boot was spotted at the surface. A Flight For Life helicopter flew the man to a hospital, but he could not be resuscitated after a burial of about 31 minutes.
The search effort was suspected at 12:45 (Summit Daily News) because of the threat of additional wet snow avalanches caused by the high temperatures. By late afternoon no other skiers or riders had been reported missing, but a search effort will continue on Saturday morning. If conditions allow. Rescuers are hoping for a cool night.
The avalanche has been classified as a WS-AS-3-O/G. (From clues observed at the accident site it is possible this avalanche may have been a natural event.) It released at treeline at about 11,770 feet. The initial fracture was 2 to 3 feet deep, but as the wet slab moved down the mountain in places it plowed to the ground releasing snow about 4 feet in depth. The debris was wet, heavy, and deep. Rescuers said that in places their 10-foot probes could not touch the ground. The slide has been estimated at about 250 across and running about 700 vertical feet on the north-facing slope.
Details are few at this time, but we will have more to report soon. While we wait on details, below is some information about ski area avalanche deaths and late spring/early summer deaths.
Avalanche deaths occurring in-bounds on open terrain are very rare; in Colorado where nearly one-third of all US avalanche victims have died such accidents are extremely rare. The last skier killed on open terrain in a Colorado ski area occurred back on January 9, 1975. A man skiing in the trees between trails triggered and was killed in a small avalanche at Crested Butte.
In the United States -- prior to this accident -- there have been only 4 other skier-deaths on open terrain since 1985. One death occurred in California (November 1985), another in Utah in February, 1986); the third died in Wyoming (January, 1999). The fourth fatality occurred this winter when a 13-year-old boy was blown out of a lift chair and buried in Nevada.
In Colorado late spring/early summer avalanche deaths are also rare. From 1950/51 to 2003/04 201 people died in Colorado avalanches. This winter has now claimed 5 (One fewer than average). Since 1950 only one other victim died in a May avalanche.
(5/22/1977, South Arapaho Peak (Indian Peaks), 1 climber killed.)
June avalanches have claimed 4.
(6/13/1992, South Maroon Peak (Elk Mtns), 2 climbers killed. 6/13/1992, South Lookout Peak (near Ophir Pass), 1 climber killed. [Yes, the same day as S. Maroon Pk.] 6/18/1984, Elk Mountains (South of Aspen), 1 solo backcountry skier killed.
Two climbers have also died in July avalanches.
For comparison January, February, and March are the worst months with 42, 43, and 44 deaths respectively. 22 people have died in April avalanches.
Preliminary report posted, Atkins, May 20. Updated avalanche dimensions on May 24.
Note: This weekend is bringing the first real warm/hot days of spring and thaw conditions with very warm temperatures (well over 50 degrees at 12,000 feet). Overnight low temperatures will not freeze. The snowpack should be treated as though avalanches will be likely, both triggered and natural.
Timing will not help much due to the warm (hot) temperatures expected through the weekend. Even if you are on the high peaks, Anything below 14,000 ft. should be suspect to slide activity.