MARBLE - The body of 37-year-old Summit County resident James Lindenblatt was recovered from the backcountry south of Marble on Monday after he was killed in an avalanche Sunday afternoon, the Gunnison County Sheriff's Office said.
A team from Crested Butte Search and Rescue used a helicopter to retrieve Lindenblatt's body from the Raspberry Creek drainage shortly after 2 p.m., Sheriff Rich Besecker said. The team sought his permission to enlist help from DBS Helicopters from Rifle because avalanche conditions were so dangerous.
"It was evident to them that the terrain immediately underfoot was unstable," Besecker said.
Lindenblatt was the second person killed in an avalanche in Colorado this winter and the first fatality of 2013. Patsy Hileman, a ski patroller at Snowmass Ski Area, was killed while on duty Dec. 30. She was skiing alone when she was swept off a cliff by a small avalanche in permanently closed terrain within the Hanging Valley Wall area.
Lindenblatt lived in Frisco but owned a cabin in Marble, where he frequently spent weekends, according to friends.
Lindenblatt was skiing with two other men Sunday when the slide occurred.
"Two of them were able to ski out and make this report," Besecker said.
The other men weren't injured. All three men were carrying avalanche beacons and other safety equipment, according to the Sheriff's Office. The two survivors reported to authorities that they dug their companion out of the snow.
"It was by their speculation that he had died from trauma experienced in the violence of the avalanche," the Sheriff's Office said in a press release issued Monday.
The Sheriff's Office received the report of the slide at about 4:30 p.m. Sunday. A response team didn't immediately try to get to the site because of snowy weather, dangerous snow conditions and approaching darkness, Besecker said. A team from Crested Butte Search and Rescue reached a staging area outside of Marble at 10:45 a.m. Monday to assess conditions and set strategy. The site is in Gunnison County rather than Pitkin County so Mountain Rescue Aspen wasn't the primary response team. The response team determined recovering the body by helicopter would be their safest option.
Marble is 6 miles off Highway 133 and about 58 miles by road from Aspen.
Brian McCall, a forecaster with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, was in Marble Monday and pieced together information from interviews with a survivor and photographs from the response team. He said the men parked on Quarry Road - the road that goes to the historic marble quarry - south of the small town. They used climbing skins to go up the east-facing terrain and reached a ridge a "bit north" of Marble Peak, he said.
The skiers dropped off that ridge into Raspberry Creek drainage, in terrain facing west and northwest. McCall estimated the men were slightly more than 1 mile west of the Quarry Road when they triggered the slide at an elevation of about 10,600 feet. Lindenblatt was the third skier to go down a slope. His companions had skied down and off to the side. After Lindenblatt made a handful of turns, the slide occurred from the middle of the slope rather than the top, according to McCall. The slide ran about 1,100 vertical feet, McCall said, carrying the victim past his companions. Its destructive size was a two on a scale of one to five, with one being the smallest, he said.
"The slab he triggered did trigger near the ground," McCall said. That emphasizes the point that there is an extremely weak, deep layer of snow.
Lindenblatt was an asset manager for Summit County government with the road and bridge department. He worked closely with the open space program - keeping track of all the county's physical assets, assistant county manager Thad Noll said. "He was an incredibly talented guy."
In the summers, Lindenblatt reportedly spent much of his time mountain biking and sometimes competing in local bike races, but in the winter he was known as an avid backcountry skier. "He just lived for backcountry skiing," Noll said.
Lindenblatt owned a cabin in Marble and spent most weekends there with friends. Co-workers said his parents, who live in Texas, are on their way to Colorado and information on services will be forthcoming.
Besecker said the two survivors said the slide occurred in a way that left snow remaining on the slope and potentially prone to slide. The response team found similarly precarious conditions. "It was reported that the entire basin was unstable as well as the immediate location of the body," the Sheriff's Office press release said.
The area south of Marble has become increasingly popular for backcountry skiing in recent years. Access to several areas is via Quarry Road. Famed backcountry skier and guide book writer Lou Dawson's Backcountry Skiing Colorado website says that skiers avoid some of the more heavily-traveled areas south of Marble and head to Anthracite or Raspberry Creek "if you've got the chops." He warned that avalanche terrain is widespread in the area.
The avalanche danger in the Marble area was rated "moderate" by the avalanche information center on Sunday as well as Monday. Snook said studies show that more avalanche fatalities occur when conditions are rated as moderate than when the risk is rated high.
There is a low probability of a slide but a potential for high consequence when conditions are rated "moderate," Snook said.
Snow that fell in recent storms is slowly starting to stabilize, Snook said, but deeply buried weak layers remain a concern. They have a potential to fail, he said.
Snook's forecast on the avalanche center's website elaborated: "Human triggered avalanches are possible on slopes steeper than 35 degrees. Many below treeline aspects hold a fully faceted snowpack where small loose slides running to the ground are possible."
The current avalanche conditions can be found at https://avalanche.state.co.us/index.php.