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As chances increase for mountain lion-human conflicts, CPW tries new tools for education

A mountain lion rests in a tree. Colorado Parks and Wildlife estimates there are at least 3,800 mature mountain lions in the state.
CPW/courtesy photo

With warmer weather around the corner and chances for mountain lion encounters increasing, Colorado Parks and Wildlife is trying to get the attention of residents in the state.

CPW released a video series Sunday to try to educate people about the elusive animals.

“Sightings of mountain lions are increasing, and we’ve had a couple high-profile attacks in the last two years,” CPW director Dan Prenzlow said in a prepared statement. “Thanks to sound management practices implemented over the years, mountain lions are doing quite well in Colorado. The challenge going forward will be balancing decreasing habitats and our exploding human populations, since we share the same spaces. This video series is meant to lay that all out.”

There have been 25 documented cases of humans being attacked by mountain lions in Colorado since 1990, according to CPW. One attack occurred in the Woody Creek area when a 5-year-old boy was attacked while playing in his front yard in June 2016. The boy’s mom reached into the mountain lion’s mouth and pulled her son’s head out of the animal’s jaws, according to authorities.

Two mountain lions around 9-months-old were tracked and killed in the area. They didn’t appear to be sick or injured but showed no fear of humans, wildlife officers said at the time.

CPW occasionally puts up signs along trails in the Roaring Fork Valley warning of recent mountain lion activity.

CPW estimates there are between 3,800 and 4,400 independent/mature mountain lions in the state, as well as an undetermined number of dependent young.

The agency received 868 reports of mountain lion sightings and incidents last year. About one in nine involved sightings on home security or trail cameras around homes.

About 17% of the calls involved conflicts with livestock and another 11% were reports of mountain lions attacking deer, which comes as no surprise. Mountain lions thrive where deer are present.

As Colorado’s population grows, CPW wants to educate people about mountain lion behavior with the short, informative videos. The four installments in CPW’s mountain lion series are:

Episode 1: “Mountain lion biology and historical perspective.”

Episode 2: “Mountain lion habitat and human expansion.”

Episode 3: “Hunting.”

Episode 4: “What to do if you encounter a mountain lion.”

The series can be found on CPW’s YouTube page, then by clicking on Mountain Lions in Colorado.

Snowboarders facing criminal charges for avalanche above I-70 lose critical battle in court

Two snowboarders have lost a critical legal battle in the criminal charges they face related to an avalanche that buried a service road above Interstate 70 in March.

A Summit County Court judge delivered a setback to their defense on Tuesday when he dismissed a motion to suppress a GoPro video of the avalanche that Evan Hannibal and Tyler DeWitt captured and gave to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

The video anchors the Summit County District Attorney’s case against Hannibal and DeWitt, who are charged with reckless endangerment and face a $168,000 fine. The case marks the first-ever criminal charges filed against skiers involved in an avalanche in Colorado.

The district attorney argues that Hannibal and DeWitt endangered drivers when they skied above the west portal of the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnels on March 25 and they should pay $168,000 to replace an avalanche mitigation system destroyed in the slide the CAIC said they triggered.

The snowboarders on Tuesday argued prosecutors violated their protection from unlawful search and seizure when they issued criminal charges based on the helmet-cam video. The men gave the video to avalanche center investigators, hoping it could be used to craft a report so others might avoid a similar slide.

For more on this story, go to coloradosun.com.

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Police: Body left in coffin at former Silverthorne funeral home for months

Shannon, left, and Staci Kent of Leadville were arrested Friday and charged with attempted tampering with a deceased human body, a Class 4 felony.
Photos from Silverthorne Police Department

Lake County Coroner Shannon Kent and his wife, Deputy Coroner Staci Kent, were arrested Friday and charged with attempted tampering with a deceased human body, a Class 4 felony, according to a news release from the 5th Judicial District attorney’s office.

The charges stem from an incident at the former Kent-Bailey Funeral Home, 561 Blue River Parkway in Silverthorne, where police found a body in a coffin that they believe had been there for several months, according to the release.

The body was identified through fingerprinting as a 42-year-old Southern California man who died July 30 in a semitrailer crash in Park County, according to Park County Coroner David E. Kintz Jr. The body was transferred from the Coroner’s Office to the now-defunct funeral home on Aug. 11, according to Kintz. After the man’s body was found unattended, it was returned to the coroner Tuesday, and his family was notified.

Shannon Kent also was charged with violation of his bail bond conditions, a Class 6 felony, related to a previous arrest Dec. 6, 2019, in Lake County, where he was charged with official misconduct and perjury after he was indicted by a grand jury in September 2019 for having his wife serve as deputy coroner without being legally sworn in, according to the release.

The Kent-Bailey chain of funeral homes also got into trouble last year, when its operating license was suspended for locations in Leadville and Gypsum on Oct. 13. The locations were shut down following a complaint about the cremains of a stillborn child and an investigation that found unsanitary conditions at the Leadville location.

According to a state report, a client of the Leadville operation contacted the funeral home to arrange for the cremation of a stillborn child in December 2019. The client said the cremains were provided only after several calls were placed with the Leadville business. The report states that the cremains presented to the client were not labeled and did not include accompanying paperwork, which the client requested.

“(The client) noted the cremains returned to her exceeded the expected weight for a stillborn child and subsequently submitted the cremains that were provided to her for forensic analysis,” the state’s suspension order states.

The analysis determined that the cremains included bone fragments from multiple people, including the infant and an older adult. The Kents are facing a civil lawsuit related to that incident.

On Oct. 2, deputies with the Lake and Eagle County sheriff’s offices executed a search warrant at the Leadville location, where they found human biological waste, used and uncleaned medical and surgery equipment, unrefrigerated human remains and refrigerated remains that did not have identification tags or accompanying paperwork.

Shannon Kent, who was elected in 2014 and reelected in 2018, voluntarily signed an agreement with state regulators in December that required him to permanently exit the funeral home and cremation businesses in Colorado, revoking his license for his chain of funeral homes including locations in Buena Vista, Fairplay and Idaho Springs in addition to the Silverthorne, Leadville and Gypsum sites.

In relation to Friday’s arrests, bond for the Kents was set at $10,000 each, and they are scheduled to appear in court March 9. The Silverthorne Police Department is continuing to investigate.

The Vail Daily contributed to this report.

Garfield County commissioners formally oppose Biden’s 30×30 climate crisis plan

Garfield County commissioners on Tuesday made official their opposition to President Joe Biden’s plan to conserve 30% of the nation’s land and water by 2030 as part of the new administration’s efforts to address climate change.

The Board of County Commissioners unanimously adopted a resolution opposing the land preservation goal.

In it, they said Garfield County relies heavily on its existing public lands for natural resource development, oil and gas leasing, grazing and recreation.

To cut back on those uses, and to potentially close off even more land from resource development, could have dire impacts on the local economy, they said.

“The 30×30 program, if implemented, is likely to cause significant harm to the economy of Garfield County, and injure the county’s businesses and its citizens by depriving them of access to public lands … and preventing the productive use of these lands’ resources,” the resolution reads.

Included among several executive orders signed by Biden last month to carry out the plan is one suspending new oil and gas leasing on Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service lands.

The commissioners also argue that the president does not have constitutional or statutory authority to permanently preserve 30% of all land and water in the United States.

“I’m opposed to this. To me, this means 30% wilderness, at least on public lands. That’s my concern,” Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said, noting that more than 62% of Garfield County is already made up of federal public land where resource development and other uses are strictly controlled.

Jankovsky said the president’s plan also conflicts with the county’s Federal Lands Natural Resource Coordination Plan and Policies, adopted by the County Commission in September 2020.

That document obligates the federal government to coordinate policies regarding public lands in accordance with the Federal Land Management and Policy Act and the National Forest Management Act, Jankovsky said.

“This resolution is extremely important … and I feel strongly about opposing this (federal policy),” he said.

Read the full resolution:

Garfield County 30×30 Resolution.pdf

Commissioners heard from two members of the public objecting to their stance, including one touting the land conservation goals in the president’s plan as a way to make Garfield County more attractive for outdoor recreation and to build up the economy in that way.

Leslie Robinson of Rifle, a Democratic county commissioner candidate last year and chair of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, requested the commissioners schedule a special evening meeting to allow the public to weigh in on the pros and cons of the 30×30 plan before voting whether to oppose it.

“We need to have a conversation about conservation issues, and a mid-morning meeting right after a holiday is not conducive for people to participate,” Robinson said.

The Republican commissioners, who had previously expressed their opposition to Democrat Biden’s plan at their Feb. 1 meeting, had their minds made up, though.

“Enough is enough,” Commissioner Mike Samson, who won reelection over Robinson in November, said.

“I see the people in the east, saying, yeah, let’s do this,” Samson said. “But it’s not going to affect their states, because they have very little public land compared to the western states.”

Commission Chairman John Martin said western counties and states in particular need to be able to use the nation’s 680 million acres of federal lands for multiple purposes, not just for enjoyment but for commerce.

“I like to use our public lands, and I respect them, but this action taken by the president … is an end run that ignores federal law and policies already in place,” Martin said.

Martin added that, by taking those lands and offshore waters out of production for oil and gas exploration and development, the policy actually hurts conservation efforts because much of the federal money derived from those uses goes back into conservation.

The commissioners’ resolution goes on to state that public lands should continue to be managed under “principles of multiple use and sustained yield, recognizing the nation’s need for domestic sources of minerals, energy, timber, food and fiber …”

Any privately owned lands targeted to meet conservation goals should only be acquired from willing landowners, including mineral rights owners, for fair market value, the commissioners also said.

The commissioners’ resolution acknowledges support for “reasonable national, regional and global greenhouse gas emissions policies and goals …”

However, those efforts should be “comprehensive, practical and cost-effective,” and should not single out specific industries or activities, the resolution states.

“(We) oppose the use of global climate change as an excuse to set aside large tracts of land as preserves or open space to fulfill the 30×30 program’s objectives,” it concludes.

jstroud@postindependent.com

Utah police: Avalanche killed 4 local backcountry skiers near Salt Lake City

Salt Lake County Sheriff Search and Rescue crews respond to the top of Millcreek Canyon where four skiers died in an avalanche Saturday, Feb. 6, 2021, near Salt Lake City. Four other skiers were injured, authorities said. The Unified Police Department told local media that it was alerted to the avalanche about 11:40 a.m. after receiving a faint distress call from an avalanche beacon in the canyon. The skier-triggered avalanche swept up eight people in their early twenties to late thirties who were in two groups touring the backcountry, Unified Police Sgt. Melody Cutler told the Salt Lake Tribune. (Francisco Kjolseth/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Four backcountry skiers in their 20s died when one of the deadliest avalanches in Utah history hit a popular backcountry skiing area, police said Sunday.

Four other people also were buried in the Saturday slide but managed to dig themselves out and didn’t suffer serious injuries, according to Unified Police of Salt Lake County.

The skiers were from two separate groups, and all eight had prepared with the necessary avalanche safety gear, authorities said.

The four killed were all from the Salt Lake City area, not far the spot where they were swept up by the skier-trigged avalanche in Millcreek Canyon.

“Our backcountry outdoor community is very connected so this type of loss touches many people and really is heartbreaking,” said Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson. “These are people who love doing what they did and lived life to the fullest.”

Three of the deceased were identified as Salt Lake City residents: Louis Holian and Stephanie Hopkins, both 26, and Thomas Louis Steinbrecher, 23. The fourth, 29-year-old Sarah Moughamian was from the suburb of Sandy, Utah.

They were experienced skiers who were well known in the community, Drew Hardesty with the Utah Avalanche Center told the Salt Lake Tribune. The avalanche danger around Salt Lake was high Saturday, the center said as it tweeted out a warning hours before the avalanche.

A faint distress call alerted police to the slide shortly before noon Saturday. The survivors found their four companions and dug them out, but they were already dead, police said.

The avalanche was “incredibly wide,” Wilson said, and still-unstable snow conditions kept rescuers from immediately recovering the bodies Saturday. Recovery operations resumed Sunday morning.

Avalanches also have claimed other lives in recent days: the bodies of three hikers were found near Anchorage, Alaska, on Thursday. In Colorado, four backcountry skiers have died in two separate slides in the past week.

Avalanche forecasters and search-and-rescue groups have been worried for weeks that more people would be venturing into the backcountry to avoid crowds and reservation systems at ski resorts during the coronavirus pandemic.

This winter is on track to be deadlier for avalanches than last year. Numbers gathered by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center show 21 people have died so far this year in the U.S., 15 of them skiers. There are still more than two months left in the season.

Last year, by contrast, a total of 23 people, including eight skiers, died between December and April, the agency found.

CD3 Rep. Boebert’s first town hall gets off to a rough start

Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., center, and other Republicans wait during a break as the House and Senate convene to count the Electoral College votes cast in November's election, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, Pool)

Congresswoman Lauren Boebert’s first teleconference town hall got off to a rough start Thursday night when two early callers accused her of treason and affiliating with white supremacists.

Boebert, a Rifle Republican who won election to Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District in November, talked with constituents for nearly one hour.

One initial caller asked her why she was photographed in the past with people allegedly flashing white supremacy symbols. That was a reference to a photo of Boebert posing with members of the American Patriots III% and Bikers for Trump at a gun rally in Denver in December 2019.

“Ma’am, I’m sorry you’ve been deceived by conspiracy theories,” Boebert responded.

A few minutes later, a woman identified as Nicole from Pueblo asked, “When you are tried for treason, which prison do you want to do your time in?”

Boebert and the moderator quickly dismissed the question and moved on to the next person. For the remainder of the event, Boebert was mostly thrown softball questions from people who expressed support for her.

Boebert sent a tweet at 2:52 p.m. Thursday announcing the town hall. Interested people were directed to register at a website. Registration was closed at 4:15 p.m., three hours before the event.

Mark from Montrose thanked Boebert for “everything she has done” for the Western Slope and 3rd District. He said she is standing up for Constitutional rights, including the right to bear arms, which he said is constantly under attack.

“For those who oppose you and those who criticize you on this town hall meeting, it’s going to do nothing but rally the base and we are going to come out in full force with lots of money to support you, to re-elect you,” the caller said.

Boebert thanked him and called his comments “sweet.”

“I want to let you to know I am doing everything I can to promote the things that matter most to Americans right now,” Boebert said. “We need to open our economy. We need to get businesses open. We need to have our schools open. These are all things that are very important. I think we’re all kind of over the politics of personal destruction.”

Sarah from Monte Vista said she had intended to ask the Congresswoman what has been the most frustrating aspect of her job, but that came apparent listening to the criticism of some callers. “I’m so sorry you have to deal with those things,” the woman said. She asked what Boebert would say to her critics.

“I think my message would be that I wake up every morning fighting for freedom and prosperity,” Boebert said. “I want every American to have every opportunity and more than I had. I want our children to grow up in a free nation. I don’t want socialism for our children. I don’t want government to step in and say they know best and they know how to run our lives better than we do. The American people are smart and sometimes it feels like government doesn’t trust its people, and so I’m hear to be that voice. I’m not a politician.”

Boebert continued to say she is motivated to help the people of the district and that “attacks” won’t intimidate her.

“Please note that the negativity, the attacks, it’s not deterring me,” Boebert said. “I pray for those who are in opposition. It’s OK, and I understand it’s not unique to me and I hope you all understand that as well.

“A lot of these attacks that you’re seeing, they’re cookie cutter and they’re occurring across the nation, unfortunately to good people who are in this for the right reasons, to serve,” Boebert continued. “I’m not letting that distract me from the work I was sent here to do.”

“Please note that the negativity, the attacks, it’s not deterring me. I pray for those who are in opposition.” — Rep. Lauren Boebert

In addition to taking audience comments and questions, Boebert’s team asked the telephone audience to answer poll questions and she outlined her legislative agenda.

Boebert said she is excited to serve on the House Natural Resources Committee.

“I’ll pursue policies that increase access and ensure multiple-use for sportsmen and other public land enthusiasts,” she said. “I’ll allow for responsible energy production while protecting the environment, reduce our dependency on rare earth and critical minerals from China where we know that child and slave labor is often used, empower tribes, increase storage and protect precious water supplies and promote job creation while removing unnecessary regulations and red tape.”

She also serves on the Budget Committee, where she will work to reduce the national debt.

“America is nearly $28 trillion in debt,” she said. “The federal government doesn’t have a revenue problem. The federal government has a spending problem. It is far past time that Congress gets its fiscal house in order, prioritizes the values of the American people and puts an end to Washington’s wasteful spending.”

The town hall ended with Boebert dismissing the need for National Guard protection and fencing around the U.S. Capitol despite the mob riot that resulted in five people dying on Jan. 5.

“I had the honor of meeting with a large group of the National Guard today and just speaking with them and letting them know how valued they are, but also how their not exactly needed here at this time,” Boebert said.

She then questioned why a wall remains around the Capitol when the wall at the United States border with Mexico hasn’t been completed. She recently visited the border wall and saw eight-foot gaps and missing sections of fence because “construction has been halted, equipment is lying on the ground to rot.”

“However, some people in Washington, D.C., felt threatened and immediately erected a very strong wall. It’s a great wall, it’s a beautiful wall. President Trump would have loved this wall,” Boebert said with a laugh. “It’s in the wrong location. We certainly don’t need that around the Capitol and I’ve actually been talking to my team about strategies to get that moved and I would love to keep you up to date on that, to see where we go with that because we have some fun strategies with this wall and where to take it.

“It is unfortunate to see,” she continued. “People guard what they care about and it’s very, very clear that those that are in power here care about themselves and President Trump wanted to guard our nations border because he cares about the American people. You protect what you value and bringing in 25,000 National Guard, that’s a little unnecessary for a mostly virtual inauguration.”

“The wall is unnecessary and needs to be taken down from around our Capitol,” Boebert concluded.

scondon@aspentimes.com

Aspen-area avalanche danger remains high in Colorado’s deadly winter

Art Burrows captured this image of a massive avalanche on Garrett Peak outside of Snowmass Ski Area on Feb. 4. Another slide was visible on Thursday.
Art Burrows/courtesy photo

An avalanche warning is set to expire in the Aspen area at 7 a.m. Friday but there will still be considerable risk for backcountry travelers for the foreseeable future, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

In other words, don’t let the allure of powder cloud your judgment.

“We’re just now coming out of a fairly significant storm and a big loading event,” Brian Lazar, deputy director of CAIC, said Thursday. “The snowpack needs time to adjust to that. When you continue with incremental loading — even if it’s small little storms — it prolongs the period you need for the snowpack to become stable.”

Snow is forecast on Friday and into the weekend with the possibility of more snowstorms next week.

“Additional snow combined with drifting snow from the wind is going to keep things on the dangerous side,” said Lazar, a Carbondale resident.

Colorado’s mountains and weather have a notorious reputation for creating dangerous avalanche conditions. Fall snowstorms are typically followed by dry, warmer periods that make the base layer weak or unstable. Then when winter really kicks in, fresh snow is layered on top of the weak base, creating the potential for slides. That scenario has been exacerbated this winter.

“We’ve had a heightened concern for a good chunk of this season,” Lazar said. “The snowpack conditions this year are particularly dangerous. We see weak layers in our snowpack almost every year. We rarely see a snowpack structure this worrisome and reactive.”

Eight backcountry skiers have died in avalanches this season, including three from Eagle County in a tragic accident in southwest Colorado on Monday. The most recent death occurred Thursday in the East Vail Chutes. The average number of avalanches deaths in Colorado is six per season, so that’s already been exceeded through just half of the winter.

Lazar said the conditions this winter are so rare they only come around about once per decade.

“Even if you’re really an experienced backcountry traveler, and you’ve been going into the backcountry for 20 years, this might be only the second time you’ve seen conditions like this,” he said. “So it’s hard to develop tried and true travel habits that you know will work when you’ve only experienced it twice.

“What works in most years we’re seeing not work this year because things are breaking and failing in quite dramatic fashion,” he added.

One of the precarious conditions this season has been remote triggering of slides. Backcountry travelers in flat areas on ridges or valley floors can trigger avalanches on faraway steeper slopes.

“People are triggering avalanches from 800 to 1,000 feet away,” Lazar said.

That’s been so prevalent this season that CAIC made a video about the condition and posted it on its YouTube channel.

“Even if you are in low angle terrain, you have to be aware of steeper terrain that’s connected to you,” Lazar said. “That’s either above you or locally connected to you, like you’re on one slope and the adjacent slope connected to you is steeper. That means you are potentially at risk. You really have to reconsider what locally connected means. This essentially means give yourself really big buffers around steep avalanche terrain.”

Anyone contemplating backcountry travel should check conditions at https://www.avalanche.state.co.us/.

scondon@aspentimes.com

Eagle County, town of Eagle release names of avalanche victims

Eagle County and the town of Eagle released a joint statement Wednesday on the three missing locals caught in an avalanche Monday near Silverton, identifying them as Seth Bossung, Andy Jessen and Adam Palmer.

Eagle County Manager Jeff Shroll said the situation “is not yet real” for many county employees, himself included. “This cuts deep throughout the community. These guys were so involved,” Shroll said.

Bossung and Palmer were both county employees, while Jessen was a co-owner of the popular Bonfire Brewing in Eagle. Palmer and Jessen were also members of the Eagle Town Council, with Jessen serving as mayor pro tem.

Here’s the full statement from Eagle County and the town of Eagle:

“Eagle County Government and the Town of Eagle are joining the community in mourning the loss of three friends and leaders. While an official announcement has not yet been made by our partners in San Juan County, the families of Seth Bossung, Andy Jessen and Adam Palmer are allowing us to share their names so we can all openly acknowledge their deaths and grieve together. The families are surrounded by loved ones, and we are asking everyone to respect their wishes as to when and how they wish to communicate with others.

“Our hearts are heavy with the loss of these three men. Their contributions through their work in local government and local businesses, as well as their personal passions and their impact on the friends and family members they leave behind, have helped shape the community in ways that will be forever lasting. Every single one of us in both of our organizations has learned by their examples, and we are grateful to be able to call them colleagues.

“It is important to recognize how this type of loss can affect people differently. There are so many resources to help with the trauma and mental health challenges that may come with grieving. A list of local organizations and providers can be found at https://www.eaglevalleybh.org/get-help-now. Financial assistance is available through Olivia’s Fund, so please do not hesitate to access these resources.

“The strength of our community is rooted in our shared love for this place and the people who live here. Andy, Adam and Seth exemplified this every day. Please find ways to come together safely and share your stories of them and others. We will do the same.”

Unrelated to the county and town announcement, donation pages have been set up on the GoFundMe website, where people can make contributions to help support the families of Bossung, Jessen and Palmer during this difficult time.

CD3 Rep. Boebert’s $22k mileage reimbursement “raises red flags,” ethics experts say

FILE - In this June 30, 2020, file photo, Lauren Boebert speaks during a watch party at Warehouse 25 Sixty Five in Grand Junction after polls closed in Colorado's primary election. (McKenzie Lange/The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel via AP File)

U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert paid herself more than $22,000 in mileage reimbursements from her campaign account last year. Boebert’s campaign defends the reimbursements but three ethics experts who reviewed the money transfers for The Denver Post say they raise questions.

Candidates for federal office can legally reimburse themselves for miles driven in personal vehicles using the Internal Revenue Service’s mileage rate, which was 57.5 cents per mile for 2020. The Republican congresswoman from western Colorado wrote two checks totaling $22,259 from her campaign coffers for mileage between January and mid-November.

To justify those reimbursements, Boebert would have had to drive 38,712 miles while campaigning, despite having no publicly advertised campaign events in March, April or July, and only one in May. Furthermore, because the reimbursements came in two payments — a modest $1,060 at the end of March and $21,200 on Nov. 11 — Boebert would have had to drive 36,870 miles in just over seven months between April 1 and Nov. 11 to justify the second payment.

“This highly unusual amount of mileage expenses raises red flags and the campaign should feel obligated to provide answers,” said Kedric Payne, a former investigator for the Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent body in Congress that examines misconduct allegations.

Boebert’s former campaign manager and her finance director declined to comment or provide evidence Boebert drove nearly 39,000 miles last year. In a statement to The Denver Post, her office stated: “She traveled to every nook and cranny of the district to speak with and hear from the people about their concerns. They say showing up is 90% of the battle and Lauren always showed up. Her aggressive travel schedule is a big reason she won.”

 

To read the full story, go to denverpost.com.

 

Three Eagle County locals presumed dead in avalanche near Silverton

Monday's avalanche occurred near Silverton. Four men who were part of a larger group of backcountry skiers triggered the avalanche and were caught, carried and buried. Members the group were able to recover one of the four men, who sustained minor injuries.
Photo courtesy of the Office of Emergency Management, San Juan County.

Family, friends and colleagues spent Monday night and much of Tuesday waiting, praying and hoping for a good outcome after four well-known Eagle County residents were reportedly involved in an avalanche near Silverton on Monday afternoon.

But three of the men still missing after the avalanche were presumed dead later Tuesday evening.

The four men, part of a larger group of backcountry skiers, triggered a large avalanche between the towns of Silverton and Ophir while traveling in an area known locally as “The Nose” around the Middle Fork of Mineral Creek, according to a preliminary report by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

A map of the "The Nose" and the approximate location of Monday's avalanche that caught and buried four people.
Photo courtesy of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center
This photo illustrates the general path of the group of backcountry skiers down the slope, in red, and the approximate boundaries of the avalanche, in blue.
Photo courtesy of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

The avalanche released on a northeast-facing slope, near treeline, at about 11,500 feet. The four men were caught, carried and fully buried by the debris. Members of the group not caught in the slide were able to recover one person with minor injuries.

A search and rescue operation for the three men still missing started Monday evening, continued late into Monday night, and then resumed Tuesday morning after avalanche mitigation.

Some of the missing men were located and presumed to be dead Tuesday, officials said. But they were not successfully extracted from the area because of the time of day and the hazards rescue personnel faced, and they have not yet been positively identified by the local coroner. Recovery efforts were suspended Tuesday, until conditions improve.

“We are hoping for a successful recovery mission (Wednesday),” said DeAnne Gallegos, public information officer for San Juan County, noting that a large storm is also expected to arrive in the area, which could complicate or delay that recovery mission.

The Vail Daily has confirmed the identities of the four skiers but is withholding their names pending formal announcements by authorities.

The search and rescue and recovery operations have included the San Juan County Sheriff’s Department, San Juan County Search and Rescue, Silverton Medical Rescue, Colorado Avalanche Information Center, Helitrax helicopter service and La Plata County Search and Rescue.

Gallegos said earlier Tuesday that there had been some confusion regarding who was involved in the avalanche, adding that dangerous avalanche conditions also affected the search and rescue operations.

Search and rescue personnel were not able to extract the missing skiers Tuesda because of the time of day and hazardous avalanche conditions.
Photo courtesy of the Office of Emergency Management, San Juan County.

So far this season, a total of 10 skiers, snowboarders and snowmobilers have been caught in avalanches, with eight people buried and four killed.

Fatal incidents include one backcountry skier caught, buried and killed in an avalanche at First Creek north of Berthoud Pass on Dec. 26; two backcountry skiers caught, buried and killed in an avalanche on the North Face of Battleship southeast of Ophir on Dec. 19; and one backcountry skier caught, buried and killed near Ohio Pass in the Anthracite Range on Dec. 18.

Monday’s avalanche on “The Nose” marks one of the largest avalanches in Colorado in recent years in terms of the number of people caught, buried and killed.

In February 2014, five skiers were caught in an avalanche on Star Mountain near Twin Lakes, with three skiers buried and two killed. In April 2013, six skiers were caught in an avalanche at Sheep Creek north of Loveland Pass, with five skiers buried and killed, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

Much of Colorado’s mountain country is facing “moderate” and “considerable” avalanche conditions, with an avalanche watch issued Tuesday for the Aspen and Gunnison zones.

Vail Health said it encourages anyone who may need counseling or behavioral health resources to reach out and seek them, noting that Olivia’s Fund can provide no-cost access to services for community members who identify a financial barrier.

Pam Boyd contributed reporting.

Editor’s note: The Vail Daily has changed the language in this story from an earlier version from “confirmed dead” to “presumed dead” to reflect a fluid situation on the ground in San Juan County as a search operation continues to recover the three missing skiers caught in Monday’s avalanche.