Avalanches kill 2 skiers | AspenTimes.com

Avalanches kill 2 skiers

Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Two skiers died in the Aspen area Thursday in separate backcountry avalanches.

A 63-year-old man on a hut trip with his family was killed in an avalanche near the Lindley Hut above the Ashcroft valley, 15 miles from Aspen.

And a woman died after being caught in a slide in a backcountry area outside of the Aspen Mountain ski area known as Pandora’s.

As of late Thursday evening, the victims’ names had not been released by the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office.

The man killed above Ashcroft was brought out Thursday night. But a recovery effort was to start Friday morning for the body of the woman on Aspen Mountain.

There were nine members in the Lindley Hut party from Utah and Fort Collins. Four young adults ages 11 to 17 were in the group. Three of them were children of the man killed in the slide. His wife was also in the group.

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As the Lindley Hut group was on its way out of the backcountry on rescue snowmobiles Thursday evening, the Aspen Mountain Ski Patrol confirmed that a missing skier had been caught and killed in an avalanche in a steep gully just outside the ski area.

“It’s the next gully east from Walsh’s toward Difficult,” said Bruce Benson, a deputy with the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office. The area, along Richmond Ridge, is frequently skied but not controlled for avalanches by the patrol.

A recovery effort for the body of the woman was planned for Friday morning, as soon as the avalanche danger subsides.

“A member of the Aspen Mountain Ski Patrol will go back in daylight and do a snow-stability estimate, and at that time we will decide,” said Benson. “If we have to let the pack settle out, we will have to do that. Our biggest goal is that no one else be hurt.”

More snow is expected throughout the weekend.

Close to a foot of snow fell overnight Wednesday and into Thursday morning, and Colorado avalanche forecasters had posted warnings about wind and snow loading.

The skier on Aspen Mountain was last seen at 2:30 p.m. and was then reported missing. She was thought to be skiing alone.

The Aspen Mountain Ski Patrol, which works in coordination with the sheriff’s office on rescues outside of its boundaries, located the missing skier and confirmed that she had been killed in an avalanche.

The patrol got back to its locker room at the bottom of Aspen Mountain at 9:15 p.m., according to Benson.

“They spent a bunch of time up there,” Benson said, before returning to the task of coordinating the plan for Friday morning with the patrol and members of Mountain Rescue-Aspen.

The avalanche that killed the man near Ashcroft occurred at midday Thursday a half-mile east of the hut at 10,500 feet. The hut is located about four miles south, or upvalley, of the Pine Creek Cookhouse.

Two others were injured in the Lindley Hut avalanche. A 57-year-old male came away with an injured knee, and a 48-year-old woman suffered an injured ankle. No other members of the party were injured, although some lost ski equipment in the slide.

As of 9 p.m. Thursday, a rescue team was still bringing out the Lindley Hut party on snowmobiles, and only limited information was being released by officials.

At about 1:45 p.m. on Thursday, at least one member of the party arrived at the Pine Creek Cookhouse just above the historic town site of Ashcroft with news that one person had been killed and two others injured in an avalanche.

The Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office was contacted, and rescue crews from Mountain Rescue-Aspen, West Eagle Search and Rescue and the Pine Creek Cookhouse proceeded up the old mine road in the Copper Creek drainage that leads to the Lindley Hut.

Rescue crews reported that all but one of the known avalanche paths in the area had slid on Thursday in an apparent series of natural avalanches.

Pitkin County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeff Lumsden could not say on Thursday night whether the avalanche that killed the 63-year-old man was triggered by skier activity or if it was a natural slide.

The party had been planning to spend Thursday night at the Lindley Hut, and they were apparently out ski touring when the slide occurred, Lumsden said.

So far this winter in Colorado, there have been two other skiers killed in backcountry avalanches, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, which reported that new snow and blowing snow Wednesday night had increased the avalanche danger in most backcountry areas.

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