Edward Stoner
Vail correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

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December 15, 2008
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Vail skier caught in in-bounds avalanche

VAIL, Colo. " A skier was caught in an in-bounds avalanche in Vail Mountain's Blue Sky Basin on Sunday.

The skier was buried to his waist but was unhurt, said Scott Toepfer of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

The slide occurred Sunday morning on the Lover's Leap trail, which drops from a cornice below the Skyline Express Lift. The avalanche ran for 150 vertical feet and was 100 to 150 feet wide. It was about 3 feet deep and slid to the ground, Toepfer said.

Vail had reported 12 inches of new snow Sunday morning, and snow continued to fall on the mountain during the day.

Blue Sky Basin opened for the season Saturday, and patrollers had been conducting avalanche control with explosives there for the last four days, Toepfer said.

"At about 9 a.m., they shot that same slope that failed," he said.

The slide was reported at 10:51 a.m. Vail Mountain closed Blue Sky Basin for the remainder of the day after the slide.

"Vail Ski Patrol will continue to conduct avalanche reduction in the area and throughout Vail Mountain and expects to reopen Blue Sky Basin on Monday, Dec. 15," Vail Resorts said in a statement.

The Forest Service, which owns Vail Mountain, will review the incident, said Snow Ranger Don Dressler.

There's always a risk of avalanche on steep slopes, even if the snow has been compacted by skiers and ski patrol has thrown explosives at it, Toepfer said. Colorado's snowpack also has several weak layers in it now that make it prone to avalanches, he said.

"When I look at this particular incident, what I see is that anything over 30 degrees has the potential to slide, no matter what's been going on in the past," Toepfer said.

The black-diamond Lover's Leap is 35 degrees at its steepest.

Toepfer, a longtime former Vail ski patroller who has skied Vail since its first season in 1962, said he can only recall one other time when a skier was caught in an avalanche in-bounds on Vail Mountain. A skier was caught on Rasputin's Revenge in Siberia Bowl two or three years after the terrain opened in 1988, Toepfer said.

In Utah on Sunday, a woman died after getting caught in an avalanche at Snowbird ski resort.

estoner@vaildaily.com


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The Aspen Times Updated Dec 15, 2008 08:13AM Published Dec 15, 2008 07:30AM Copyright 2008 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.