Killer avalanche was big, unpredictable, CAIC says
VAIL — An avalanche that killed a lifetime Vail resident likely unpredictable was and big enough to damage a house, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.
Tony Seibert, 24, died Tuesday when he was caught in an avalanche in the East Vail Chutes area near Vail Mountain. He was skiing there with three friends, who were all injured in the slide.
“We have these persistent weak layers, and sometimes they stick around. They fail and break in surprising and unpredictable ways,” said the center’s Brian Lazar.
The slide that killed Seibert occurred on an east-facing slope, about 11,400 feet above sea level, Lazar said. It followed several days of storms.
“Most of the snow came in on westerly winds, which means it was loading and drifting on these leeward aspects,” Lazar said.
The avalanche center’s preliminary estimates are that the avalanche was a D-3 on the agency’s destructive scale. That’s big enough to knock a car or truck off the road, knock over trees or damage a wood-frame house, Lazar said.
Lazar said the center’s preliminary estimate was based on photos and information available Wednesday morning. A team of investigators is on the scene, Lazar said.
“The Colorado Avalanche Information Service has people in the field right now, trying to determine how big the avalanche was and what caused it,” Lazar said.
Avalanches are rated on a scale from 1 to 5 — 1 is the smallest and poses little or no danger; 5 is big enough to level an entire village, Lazar said.
“We don’t have 5s because the terrain isn’t tall enough,” Lazar said. “However, it doesn’t take an avalanche even as big as a 3 to cause injury or death.”
Last year’s Sheep Creek avalanche near Loveland Pass was a D-3, Lazar said. It killed five people, making it Colorado’s worst avalanche accident since 1962 and the worst ever involving backcountry skiers or snowboarders.