Avalanche victim was a senior at Rifle High | AspenTimes.com

Avalanche victim was a senior at Rifle High

Donna Daniels
Special to The Aspen Times

A 19-year-old high school senior from Silt was killed in an avalanche while snowmobiling Sunday.

Grant Walker, a student at Rifle High, was riding with several friends and his brother on Vetter Trail northwest of Sunlight Mountain Resort outside Glenwood Springs. A slope he was crossing gave way and carried him down into a deep gulch, burying him in snow, said Garfield County Sheriff Tom Dalessandri.

No one else was injured in the avalanche, which occurred about 3 p.m.

The snowmobilers, a group of about six, had started from the Four Mile trailhead just west of the ski area and traveled about 10 miles along the trail, Dalessandri said.

“They were playing in the area for the better part of the day,” he said, running across a moderate and well-packed slope. “A number of them traversed the hillside. It was quite hard-packed, and they were making hardly any trail.”

Apparently Walker’s snowmobile triggered the slide, although the other snowmobiles had covered the same ground repeatedly, Dalessandri said.

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The slide was described as about 100 to 200 yards wide, and it ran about 100 yards down the hillside.

“It was not all that steep, but it slid into a valley and carried the victim into a gulch. There was about 10 feet of snow in the gulch,” he said.

Walker was buried under about one foot of snow, but a part of his snowmobile was visible. He was freed in 15 to 30 minutes, Dalessandri said. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation was performed by his companions, but without success.

The accident was first reported by one of the snowmobile party by cell phone to a friend in Silt, who then notified the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office. Authorities then determined the accident was in Garfield County. Search and Rescue responded about 4 p.m., Dalessandri said, and sheriff’s deputies were on the scene between 6:30 and 7 p.m.

The Sunlight Ski Patrol also responded to the scene of the accident.

Dalessandri said it took some time to determine where the accident was located. It was in an area close to the Pitkin, Garfield and Mesa county lines.

“Information was sketchy about where they were,” he said.

Once the location of the accident was determined, it took rescuers between 25 and 30 minutes to reach it, he added.

“Fall and spring are the worst times for an avalanche,” Dalessandri said, because snow alternately freezes and thaws, creating unstable layers of snow and ice that are prone to slide, even on relatively moderate slopes.

According to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, the most avalanche-prone months are February, March and January, in that order.

About 98 percent of all avalanches start on slopes of 25 to 50 degrees. Although most avalanches occur above tree line, they can also run on small slopes well below tree line in gullies, road cuts and small openings in trees.

Monday, students, teachers and staff at Rifle High School were in shock.

“We’re having a really hard day,” said senior class counselor Rick Schmitz.

He spoke of Walker as “the outdoors type, a kid who loved to hunt and snowmobile.”

Walker was in an advanced auto mechanics class, Schmitz said.

“He was real good at working with cars. He had a unique sense of humor.”