Another deadly avalanche in East Vail |

Another deadly avalanche in East Vail

Melanie Wong
Vail correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

VAIL, Colo. ” A Vail skier died in an avalanche in the East Vail Chutes on Saturday morning, according to the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office.

Vail resident Matthew Gustafson, 33, was buried for at least four hours before rescuers located him. He was pronounced dead shortly afterward, the Sheriff’s Office said.

Forty-five-year-old Jackie Rossman, of Vail, was also involved in the accident, said Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Shannon Cordingly.

The two men were skiing by the King Tut and Old Man’s chutes at about 11 a.m. when the avalanche happened. That area is just east of where another avalanche killed snowboarder Jesse Brigham on Jan. 4.

Both Gustafson and Rossman were buried in Saturday’s slide, but Rossman was able to free himself. He later told authorities he had been buried for about an hour until he was able to dig himself out and call 911, Cordingly said.

Vail Mountain Rescue and Vail Ski Patrol responded and found Rossman. The Vail Public Safety Communications Center was able to pinpoint latitude and longitude coordinates from the 911 call. Both skiers were wearing avalanche beacons.

Vail Mountain Rescue estimates that Saturday’s slide was 900 feet wide and 1,500 feet long, and rescuers located Gustafson under 6 to 7 feet of snow, according to a statement from the Sheriff’s Office.

The East Vail Chutes are a backcountry skiing area that are not part of Vail Ski Resort. However, skiers get to the chutes via a gate by the Mongolia lift, a surface lift above Mongolia Bowl in Vail’s Back Bowls.

Avalanche danger in most of the Vail Summit zone at all elevations was “considerable” Saturday, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

Human-triggered avalanches were “probable,” and natural avalanches were “possible,” said avalanche forecaster Spencer Logan.

New snow and strong winds create “wind slabs,” or weak layers in the snow. The conditions have been ripe for avalanches, Logan said.

“Everyone in the avalanche business has been expecting this. It makes us all nervous,” he said.

There were many “close calls” over the past two weeks, with avalanches reported every day, Logan said.

At least 18 people have been caught in avalanches in Colorado, and two have been killed since Dec. 30, the center reported.

“This was probably not a good day to be in the place they were in,” Logan said. “There’s good snow out there, and people want to enjoy it, but it seems people are taking some risks or cutting it too close.”

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