Avalanche kills five snowboarders in Colorado today


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Trad climber
greater Boss Angeles area
Apr 23, 2013 - 12:21pm PT
I'm still not clear how the Glen Canyon Dam affects the water in Lake Mead, unless the water sent down-stream from Lake Powell is colder than it otherwise would be.
Todd Eastman

Bellingham, WA
Apr 23, 2013 - 12:36pm PT
I am generally more comfortable ski touring with skiers that have lots of mountaineering experience than skiers whose primary background in the mountains comes from skiing.

The risk analysis in mountain terrain takes time to develop as a skill. Mountaineers (climbers) usually spend more time in the Alpine zone.

Trad climber
Western America
Apr 23, 2013 - 01:42pm PT
bad news good news. We all have a disease called risk taking but its treatable.



Trad climber
Apr 23, 2013 - 01:49pm PT
Group think and desire to ski the goods scares me. I am certainly not going to judge the folks tragically impacted in this case but why would you not space out and expose 5 people to a slide path. Seems like fairly simple protocol but I have personally made poor decisions based on the " stoke" factor of the day and group think.

If another highly avi educated person thinks it is safe, does this mean I should contradict him/her? Often it does but we can get lured into these traps fairly easily. How about if 3 of the 5 in the group think it is stable? You know someone in that group was apprehensive about making that traverse. I have seen stuff slide that should have never ever slid using the standards that are taught in avi classes. I have also seen a totally stable day go to completely unstable when the temp reached XX degrees in the sun and then back to relatively stable all over the course of an hour or two. Such an inexact science with sooo many variables. These days I am so overly cautious as I probably should have met the reaper a long time ago when I was less experienced with more testosterone.

Colorado has a nice dust layer in the snowpack right now too. Another variable that may or may not be related to climate change. Scary stuff right now.

steve shea

Apr 23, 2013 - 02:09pm PT
Big slide on Nez Perce here in the Tetons. No one dead but once again triggered by humans. Local BC "experts".

Grey Matter
Apr 23, 2013 - 02:14pm PT
I think your point is actually agreeing with the NYT article. He calls them expert and experienced skiers, leaving it a little more up to the reader to figure out what that might mean in terms of "avalanche hazard expert." Some of them did avoid the direct descent thinking it was too risky.
Big Mike

Trad climber
Apr 23, 2013 - 02:47pm PT
true expert would certainly not have actually been in it under those conditions!

+1 MILLION! the people who chose the safer route in the tunnel creek incident made it out safely, even if it was by the skin of their teeth. They knew they shouldn't have been there, i'm sure they would rather have avoided that expedition all together if they could do it all over.

Truth is even if the Colorado party had followed proper procedure it would have been unlikely that anyone caught in the slide would have survived. The snow most likely killed them before the avy even stopped. The one survivor was extremely lucky.

Digging them out would have been a nearly impossible task, with that amount of snow and how hard it sets up.

Trad climber
'cross the great divide
Apr 23, 2013 - 03:28pm PT
I remember that winters in northwest Wyoming typically started with moderate snowfalls, such that by Thanksgiving there was enough snow to ski with your rock boards on Teton Pass. During the winter, in addition to the temperatures generally staying quite cold (with the exception of the annual Jan./Feb. thaw), the snowfalls tended to come in moderate dumps throughout the season. We always listened to Rathole's recorded Bridger-Teton avy on the phone, and used that as a reference, in addition to the observations we made skiing nearly every day while the snow stayed good. I found the snowpack there to be fairly consistent.

I have found the snowpack in Colorado to be very inconsistent, starting with the first day of backcountry skiing on Berthoud Pass many years ago. By that time I had pretty much mastered telemarking in powder due to five Teton winters, and found myself flailing at Berthoud skiing breakable crust on top of a bunch of faceted snow.

In Colorado, in addition to much more wildly swinging temps., the snowfall tends to come more sporadically. At the beginning of fall, it is not uncommon to get a pretty big early dump, but not necessarily followed by the consistent moderate snowfall that I witnessed in Wyoming. The result is that it is common for TG snow to form at the ground level, that remains in the snowpack throughout the winter. With relatively long streteches between storms not uncommon, TG snow also forms at other layers throughout the snowpack, remaining for the duration of the winter. I have seen bigger dumps here in Boulder (not located in the mountains) than I ever saw in Jackson or the mountains around Jackson. Consequently, the snowpack here typically has numerous TG layers that get stressed by sporadic large dumps of snow. I have collapsed TG layers more than one foot thick here in CO while approaching ice climbs in relatively safe places. I never saw anything like that in hundreds of days of backcountry skiing on and around Teton Pass.

I've heard tales of 6 feet of TG snow in the San Juans, which is probably a bit of an exxageration. However, the point is made that the snowpack here truly is a different beast.

Gym climber
sawatch choss
Apr 23, 2013 - 05:51pm PT
Regarding the dust layer in Colorado:

The frequency of dust storms has increased with vehicular traffic upwind on the Colorado Plateau, which is due mostly to two factors: exponential increases in OHV use, and increased roadbuilding to support hydrocarbon extraction. The combination has produced unprecedented disturbance of the fragile desert soils, lots of which end up in the air until they settle out over the CO mountains.

Climate change and brown snow are actually symptomatic of fossil fuel/vehicle use.

Trad climber
Western America
Apr 23, 2013 - 10:52pm PT
Cannot understand why the avalanche poodles did not work?

Trad climber
Apr 24, 2013 - 12:26pm PT
A good article profiling those that we have lost


Trad climber
Apr 24, 2013 - 12:39pm PT


Trad climber
The great state of advaita
Apr 24, 2013 - 12:51pm PT
The NYT Tunnel Creek article won a Pulitzer recently. It really was well put together.

Trad climber
vancouver, bc
Apr 24, 2013 - 01:44pm PT
Maybe I missed it - what's the word of the single survivor? Is he still recovering?

Another question in my mind is, given that these guys seemingly knew what they were doing from an avy perspective and the conditions were pretty spicey out there, you would have expected them to have skied the slope one at a time, maybe they had all completed the run and were at the bottom of the slope when the avalanche cut? Any word on where they were when it happened?

Social climber
Ridgway, CO
Apr 24, 2013 - 01:51pm PT
Avalanche Details

Location: Sheep Creek, north of Loveland Pass
State: Colorado
Date: 2013/04/20
Time: 12:00 AM (Estimated)
Summary Description: 6 snowboarders caught and buried, 5 killed
Primary Activity: Backcountry Tourer
Primary Travel Mode: Snowboard


Caught: 0
Fully Buried: 6
Injured: 0
Killed: 5


Type: HS
Trigger: AR - Snowboarder
Trigger (subcode): u - An unintentional release
Size - Relative to Path: R3
Size - Destructive Force: D2.5
Sliding Surface: O - Within Old Snow


Slope Aspect: N
Site Elevation: 12000 ft
Slope Angle: --
Slope Characteristic: --

Accident Summary


A backcountry touring party of six, on splitboards and skis, were caught in an avalanche in the Sheep Creek area near Loveland Pass. Five of the riders were killed. The group may have triggered the avalanche from below the start zone, low in the avalanche path. The avalanche released into old snow layers and the ground. Approximate dimensions of the crown face of the avalanche are 4 feet deep and 500 feet wide.

Trad climber
vancouver, bc
Apr 24, 2013 - 02:02pm PT
Yes I have read the report, nothing about the survivor though and the only thing they mention is "The group may have triggered the avalanche from below the start zone, low in the avalanche path" - the survivor would have the answer to this question.

Anyone have any idea what the slope angle is like around there? It wasn't included in the report, Google Earth tells me about 25-30 degrees?

Gym climber
sawatch choss
Apr 24, 2013 - 02:05pm PT
The best discussion out there is at http://www.wildsnow.com/9930/sheep-creek-avalanche-loveland-colorado/#comments

Trad climber
Apr 24, 2013 - 02:06pm PT
I read that the survivor is at home with family " declining all requests for interviews"

Trad climber
'cross the great divide
Apr 24, 2013 - 02:30pm PT
Supa, I was thinking that the slope (in the picture where the investigators where measuring the crown line) appeared to be less steep than the "ideal" steepness for an avalanche slope. It didn't appear to be 35 degrees, although pictures can obviously be deceiving.

There's a lot of talk on the Wild Snow site about the breakdown of safety protocol during this avalanche. In addition to the group dynamic, I think the "considerable" rating for avalanche danger can be very misleading. If the folks at C.A.I.C. rate the risk as "extreme", the local news (both TV and radio) seem to talk about it, such that the awareness of the average Joe is probably raised. "Extreme" danger sort of speaks for itself.

I think especially for folks who are familiar with the backcountry in winter conditions, when the risk is "considerable", the temptation is to think that because the danger is not extreme, risk assessment can be more accurately gauged once out in the field. Avalanche conditions can be very localized, and I think the term "considerable" leads people to believe a particular slope may or not be dangerous. It is a fact that most backcountry users in Colorado are killed by avalanches on "considerable" risk days.

However, if one actually reads what "considerable" risk is defined as, it is that natural avalanches are possible, and human-triggered avalanches are likely. What is truly disturbing about this accident is not only that these guys were experienced backcountry riders, but that the slope that slid was exactly the aspect and elevation that the forecasters at C.A.I.C. have been worried about for much of this winter: northerly aspect near treeline.

Additionally, one must wonder how much the group-think psyche played a factor in their decision-making, as well as the fact that this slope is very close to the road.
Charlie D.

Trad climber
Western Slope, Tahoe Sierra
Apr 24, 2013 - 07:54pm PT
Here's a good summary from the CAIC:


"It is easy to underestimate the consequences of getting caught in a deep-persistent slab avalanche, because these slides are often much bigger than most of the avalanches witnessed by backcountry recreationalists. Deep-persistent slabs do not form every year, like storm and wind slab avalanches. The only effective travel technique for this avalanche problem is to avoid areas where deep slabs might release, or if the risk is deemed acceptable, expose a single group member to the danger. Spreading out often does not mitigate the risk to the group because these avalanches are always large and destructive."
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