In Wake of Weekend Storm, Three Avalanche Fatalities
by Martinique Davis
Jan 25, 2012 | 1639 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
WESTERN SAN JUANS – Last weekend’s blizzard, which brought 18 inches of snow overnight to the Telluride Ski Resort and deep accumulations throughout the rest of the state, heralded the deadliest storm of the season, with three avalanche-related deaths occurring in Colorado.

The first occurred on in-bounds terrain at Vail Mountain on Sunday, after a group of local teens were caught in an avalanche. Vail Daily reports that Taft Conlin, 13, was skiing the closed Prima Cornice terrain on Sunday after a storm dropped nine inches of fresh snow.

Despite resuscitation efforts by members of Vail’s Ski Patrol, Conlin was pronounced dead at the Vail Valley Medical Center later in the day. Eagle County Coroner Kara Bettis reported the teen died of chest injuries due to blunt force trauma sustained in the avalanche. Reports on Tuesday did not indicate whether the victim had been buried in the slide.

Despite earlier reports indicating that the teenager had ducked a rope to access the terrain, a Forest Service investigation found that the group had entered the area via a lower, open access gate. “It is our understanding that the boys entered through a lower gate and hiked to the closed terrain,” Vail Resorts said in a statement.

Sunday also saw a 26-year-old man perish in a small, in-bounds slide at Winter Park Ski Resort. Resort officials said the man was unresponsive when Ski Patrol members reached him and began CPR. Reports did not indicate if the victim had been buried, and cause of death is pending an autopsy.

The skier was found in the debris field of a small avalanche that swept through a gully in a treed area between Trestle and Roundhouse trails.

A Sunday avalanche also took the life of a 20-something Fort Collins man, who had been caught in a slide while snowmobiling near Steamboat Springs. The website reported that two Fort Collins brothers were caught in an avalanche after riding with a group of other snowmobilers on the east side of Buffalo Pass, west of Walden, on Sunday. Rescuers did not locate the victims until Monday, after their father found the site and searchers spotted him and one of the sons from a helicopter.

“We have confirmed one fatality and one subject was rescued,” said Missi White, logistics coordinator for Jackson County Search and Rescue. White said rescuers confirmed the death Monday, at about 7:25 p.m., after looking for the men Sunday afternoon and all day Monday.

The string of avalanche-related deaths over the weekend puts the total count of Colorado avalanche fatalities this year at four. On Jan. 18, a backcountry skier was killed by an avalanche near Aspen.

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center released an Avalanche Warning for all zones on Sunday, and a Special Advisory Statement was in effect Tuesday. Another storm Tuesday added more snow accumulations to the San Juans zone, adding stress to the snowpack, that could contribute to another cycle of high-hazard avalanche conditions locally.

Matt Steen, the CAIC’s backcountry avalanche forecaster for the San Juan mountains, expects the snowpack to remain unstable throughout the region, well into the future.

“We’re still getting reports of widespread avalanche activity, days after the rapid load of snow over weekend,” Steen said Tuesday. Historically, winters that begin with a shallow snowpack often result in more avalanche action overall, and thus more avalanche-related deaths, he said. “Structurally, the snowpack is weak. It’s going to take a little while for it to settle out, and we might just have to wait for slopes to avalanche naturally” before hazard is reduced significantly, he added.

“People are chomping at the bit to get out there,” he continued. “But professionals in the area are all saying that it’s as touchy as it’s been in years.”

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