Skier unharmed after spending Saturday night in Marble backcountry, self-rescuing
Man visiting Crystal River Valley gets lost but finds way out
A man visiting the Crystal River Valley got lost while backcountry skiing near Marble, spent Saturday night in a snowstorm and self-rescued Sunday afternoon, according to Crested Butte Search and Rescue.
“He rescued himself, basically,” Jeff Duke, vice president of Crested Butte Search and Rescue and one of its team leaders, said Monday morning.
The man was visiting a friend who lives north of Redstone and “decided to go for a simple tour to stretch his legs,” Duke said. The man was by himself and was last seen at about 11 a.m. putting skins on his skis at a trailhead along the road to the Marble quarry, according to the incident report.
The man’s friend enlisted help from another person and searched for him when he didn’t come back to the house late Saturday afternoon. They reported the man missing to the Gunnison County Sheriff’s Office at 9 p.m.
West Elk Search and Rescue out of Paonia and Crested Butte Search and Rescue were notified of the missing skier and they contacted Mountain Rescue Aspen for mutual aid because of their familiarity with the Marble terrain, Duke said.
MRA and West Elk Search and Rescue put a team in the field soon after first light Sunday. Crested Butte Search and Rescue joined them later in the morning after the four-hour drive from Crested Butte. Kebler Pass is closed so the long trip was required.
The search and rescue teams hadn’t found the man by 3 p.m. Sunday so they came out of the field and were debriefing at the trailhead, Duke said. A short time later they were informed the man had made his way out of the backcountry and was hitchhiking back to Marble from a location somewhere on the west side of McClure Pass. Duke said search and rescue personnel speculated the man might have emerged at Erickson Springs campground on the Kebler Pass Road.
A Gunnison County Sheriff’s Office report said the man was reported “in good health.” No details were available about his overnight stay.
Marble is a popular backcountry ski destination that has multiple routes from trailheads just outside of town. The Marble area is located in Gunnison County but Mountain Rescue Aspen often helps because of the difficulty getting personnel from the Gunnison area to Marble, Gunnison County Sheriff Rick Besecker said. Likewise, West Elk Search and Rescue is based in Delta County but aids with searches in the Marble area.
Duke said calling on mutual aid from Mountain Rescue Aspen is critical because Crested Butte Search and Rescue members aren’t as familiar with the terrain above Marble.
“They all know that area and ski that area and they just did a fabulous job of getting the search organized,” Duke said.
A weekend snowstorm left 8 to 12 inches of low-density snow throughout the Aspen and Marble zone, but the Colorado Avalanche Information Center is urging powder-starved backcountry skiers to use extreme caution rather than rush out to enjoy the new powder.
The new and drifted snow created one new avalanche problem and camouflaged an existing one, wrote Blase Reardon, forecaster for the Aspen zone. The drift snow formed soft, reactive slabs in leeward and cross-loaded start zones, he said. In wind-sheltered areas, the snow fell on older, unstable layers.
“Under this coat of paint is a rickety house,” Reardon warned in his online report.
The center rated avalanche conditions “considerable” in the Aspen zone at and above tree line Monday and “moderate” below tree line. That forecast includes the upper Crystal River Valley.
Reardon wrote that the only reliable way to avoid triggering persistent slab avalanches is to avoid steep slopes.
“Right now, slopes steeper than about 30 degrees make the hair on my neck go up,” Reardon wrote. “If I wound up on a slope steeper than about 35 degrees, I’d be nauseous.”
A skier from Durango died in an avalanche Sunday near Silverton in southwest Colorado.
Reardon noted that most skiers have enjoyed little or no time in the backcountry halfway through the season, but now isn’t the time for steep powder skiing.
“Staying safe requires ignoring the hunger for the steep and deep, sticking to low-angled terrain, and adhering to safe travel protocols,” Reardon wrote.
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Kevin Warner started his career with the U.S. Forest Service as a wilderness ranger in 2001. Now he’s taking over the key position as Aspen-Sopris District Ranger.