Jim Davidson, a Fort Collins climber, explains why it’s important to be prepared for big climbs Adrian Garcia
A 29-year-old woman who died in a Sunday avalanche near Cameron Pass marks the first avalanche death this season in the country, but early heavy snowpack could mean more deaths in Colorado.
The Larimer County Coroner’s Office said it will release the name of the person who died in the avalanche Tuesday morning.
A 911 call made about 2:45 p.m. Sunday reported a skier had been caught in an avalanche near the pass, a popular winter backcountry recreational destination 68 miles west of Fort Collins along Colorado Highway 14.
Other members of her party dug her out, but she was not breathing after the avalanche, according to a Larimer County Sheriff’s Office news release.
The Colorado Avalanche Information Center reported the avalanche was on Diamond Peak.
The avalanche, which occurred at 11,400 feet, was “2 to 3 feet deep, very wide, and running close to 500 feet vertically,” according to the CAIC. The skier was fully buried.
Rescuers from Larimer and Jackson counties responded, but the skier was declared dead at the scene, according to the sheriff’s office.
The death coincides with an early snow season in Colorado. There were 130 avalanches in the state the first week of December and nearly 200 avalanches this snow season, according to the CAIC. Those avalanches have resulted in several people being caught in slides.
Colorado snowpack statewide is 125% of average for this time of year.
CAIC Director Ethan Greene is concerned that recent large snowfall on top of weak layers of October snow could result in a long avalanche season. A CAIC crew was heading to the Diamond Peak avalanche area Monday to assess the scene. Greene expects his agency to release an incident report in about a week.
“It’s not unusual for this setup here, but it is troubling that this setup could cause problems the rest of the winter,” Greene said.
He said the state has seen a large number of smaller avalanches the last couple of weeks. He said recent storms with large snow amounts and wind have loaded some slopes, and those small avalanches weeks ago are now increasing in size, with the potential to bury and kill.
“Just because the avalanche danger is rated as moderate, people shouldn’t feel safe,” Greene said. “Moderate can still be fairly dangerous. There still are places where you can trigger an avalanche with that rating.”
CAIC said currently north, east and northeast aspects of certain areas are specifically dangerous.
Sunday’s death is believed to be the third on Diamond Peak in the past 30 years. The latest came Dec. 29, 2000, when Robert “Chris” Christiansen died. The 40-year-old city of Fort Collins parks department worker was snowshoeing up Diamond Peak to snowboard down when he got caught in an avalanche.
On Dec. 14, 1999, Colorado State University student Dan Samelson was killed in an avalanche on Diamond Peak.
Jim Davidson, an avid climber, winter backcountry skier and nationally recognized motivational speaker, last skied Cameron Pass on Nov. 29. He said it was some of the best ski touring conditions he had seen at the pass in many years. He said the conditions have changed much at the pass since he was there and that early season abundant snow conditions on Cameron Pass can be as dangerous as they are enticing.
“You can see Diamond Peak driving up the highway. It’s beautiful, has great snow right now and within an hour from the parking lot you can be in avalanche terrain,” Davidson said. “It’s widely known but not universally known that early snow in Colorado is dangerous. You add up all of those things and Diamond Peak can be a complex place.”
This year’s early abundant snow in the state comes a season after a banner snowpack year that caused historic avalanches. Those avalanches repeatedly closed a busy Interstate 70 through the mountains, as well as other well-traveled roads in the state, and destroyed houses well into spring.
That snow season also resulted in Colorado leading the nation in avalanche deaths with the state claiming eight of the 25 people who died nationally. Colorado, which averages about six avalanche deaths a season, has seen more people die in avalanches than any other state.
Avalanche safety tips
Check the Colorado Avalanche Information Center’s current avalanche forecast to get information on current and forecast avalanche conditions. You can also call 303-499-9650. Also check the latest weather forecast to see if conditions are likely to change while you are in the backcountry.
Always have one or more companions. Even small avalanches can be fatal.
Most avalanches occur on slopes between 35 degrees and 50 degrees but can run as low as 30 degrees. Bring an inclinometer to determine slope angle.
If you hear a cracking, whumping or drum-like sound, exit the area immediately.
If crossing a slope that may be prone to avalanches, do it one person at a time. You want to have rescuers available should you get caught in a a slide.
All members of your party should carry avalanche rescue equipment, including an avalanche beacon, shovel and probe pole, and know how to efficiently use them. This increases your chances of a successful rescue and finding your friends alive.
The most dangerous times for avalanches to occur are during and for the next several days after a snowstorm.
Avoid wind-blown loaded areas like cornices, drifts and steep slopes.
Miles Blumhardt looks for stories that impact your life — be it news, outdoors, sports, you name it he wants to report it. Have a story idea, send it his way. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter at @MilesBlumhardt.
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