Avalanche danger around Aspen area high; CAIC issues warnings

Skier killed on Red Mountain Pass was part of safety course group

Staff report
An image from the avalanche in the San Juan Mountains where a skier was killed Saturday. From CAIC: There are two avalanches in the image. The one on the right was triggered by the group as they descended the slope. The one on the left released sympathetically. Debris from the second avalanche overran the debris pile from the first.
Courtesy Colorado Avalanche Information Center

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center issued avalanche warnings Monday morning for the Aspen area and most of the northern and central Colorado mountains.

After Sunday’s snowstorm dropped a foot of new snow in some areas, the CAIC said travel is not recommended in avalanche-prone areas, even below treeline, and added that slides could happen on their own.

“We are on the cusp of a dangerous avalanche cycle. Naturals avalanches are likely today, and where avalanches don’t release naturally, you can easily trigger one,” forecaster Brian Lazar wrote in the Monday morning update. “Avalanches in the storm snow could break one to four feet thick. The thickest, stiffest, and most dangerous slabs are on north and east-facing slopes due to loading from strong southwest winds.”

The warning includes the Gunnison, Grand Mesa, Steamboat and Flat Tops areas.

In addition to the 8 inches at most of the Aspen ski resorts in the past 24 hours, Lazar reported snow totals were 12 to 15 inches near Marble, 13 inches by Gothic, at least a foot near Irwin and 12 inches on McClure Pass and Grand Mesa.

“This puts us right around an inch of snow-water equivalent, with the deepest areas (near Schofield SNOTEL site) approaching 1.5 inches,” Lazar said. “That a pretty good load in the less than 48 hours for our weak and fragile snowpack.”

A backcountry skier was killed in a slide Saturday on Red Mountain Pass in the San Juan Mountains. He was traveling in a group and four others survived. The Durango Herald reported the victim as Peter Marshall, a 40-year-old man from Longmont.

According to the CAIC preliminary report issued Monday morning, the group was part of an avalanche safety course and two slides occurred.