Local man dies in avalanche
A 37-year-old Snowmass Village man, described as a “very experienced backcountry skier,” was killed yesterday afternoon in an avalanche in Hurricane Basin, an out-of-bounds area located on the backside of Aspen Mountain.
The man, a longtime local whose name was not released last night pending notification of his family, was skiing alone when he triggered the slide, according to Deputy Scott Thompson of the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office.
“He was skiing in a narrow gulch in Hurricane Basin, and the bank sloughed off onto him,” Thompson said.
The avalanche buried the man under 6 feet of snow at the bottom of the gulch, Thompson said.
“Four people who live in that area went up and started probing for him,” he said. “They found him, dug him out, and started CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) until they determined he was not going to survive.”
The man was caught in the slide between 4:30 and 5 p.m., Thompson estimated.
His was the second avalanche death of the day in Colorado. A snowboarder died in a slide near Arapahoe Basin earlier Tuesday (see story on page 5-A).
At least 15 members of Mountain Rescue Aspen, along with Thompson, responded to the scene after being called in at 5:45 p.m., Thompson said. The team recovered the man’s body last night and cleared the scene shortly after 9 p.m.
“One of the witnesses said [the avalanche] was 150 feet wide by 120 feet tall,” Thompson said. “But it’s hard to tell because it dropped right into the gully.”
Deputy Bruce Benson, who also participated in organizing the recovery effort, said he’d known the local man for at least 15 years. And Benson, an avid backcountry user himself, characterized the man as a “very experienced skier,” with extensive backcountry seasoning.
Both Benson and Thompson stressed that backcountry conditions are ripe for avalanches at the moment.
“Snow conditions are horrible for slides right now,” Thompson said. “I would call avalanche conditions probable.”
One Mountain Rescue Aspen member noted that a Snowcat triggered a large avalanche in McFarlane’s Bowl on Monday, an environmental indicator that should be heeded, she said.
McFarlane’s Bowl is also located off the backside of Aspen Mountain; Hurricane Basin is located above Little Annie Road.
Thompson said the cause of death is still under investigation. “We need to determine whether it was a traumatic death or whether he was asphyxiated,” he said.
With yesterday’s deaths, the avalanche death toll in Colorado this season stands at six.
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