Mud pours down lower Buttermilk |

Mud pours down lower Buttermilk

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” Mud, water and clumps of aspen trees slid down the lower slopes of Buttermilk ski area Monday afternoon, punching a hole in the back of a maintenance building and causing a small oil spill.

Aspen volunteer firefighters, sheriff’s deputies and Aspen Skiing Co. personnel mostly watched as the mud continued to ebb and flow, though crews stopped oil that spilled from a tank alongside the building after it was knocked over by the mud and debris. The oil crept onto a paved parking area in front of the structure. There was no estimate on the amount of oil that spilled from what was reportedly a 1,000-gallon tank.

The county environmental health officer was summoned to inspect the spill, which was stopped initially with whatever material was on hand, before sand could be carted in to build dams to halt further flow.

The slide created a gash in the hillside, at the bottom of the mountain and to the skier’s left of the superpipe, that looked to be about 50 feet wide and 30 feet deep. The slide’s uppermost cut into the hillside was below the lowest of the terrain park’s big jumps to the skier’s left of the pipe.

No one was hurt in the slide; apparently no one was in the building when the first slide occurred, according to reports from the scene.

Mud flowed into the back door of the cinder-block vehicle maintenance building with the initial mudslide, at about 2:30 p.m. A subsequent rush of rocks, trees, mud and water punched a hole in the back of the structure and one corner of the roof began to sag.

Various pieces of equipment were stored in and around the building. Eventually, a snowcat was moved into position to pick up the Skico’s $125,000 pipe cutter ” used to groom the steep walls of the superpipe ” and move it out of harm’s way. No damage estimate for the building or its contents had yet been released by the Skico.

Water from melting snow farther up the mountain apparently caused the slide, said David Bellack, Skico senior vice president and general counsel, who was on the scene along with various other company executives. Crews were working about 200 feet above the slide to divert the water toward the main part of the mountain and away from the slide site, said Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle.

The danger of additional slides kept crews from entering the building to salvage equipment.

“They’re going to be coming in for a demolition permit at some point ” I guarantee that,” predicted Lance Clarke, a planner with the Pitkin County Community Development Department, as he surveyed the damage to the back of the building. Mud flowed out some of the bay doors on the front side.

Clarke said he came out to view the scene out of curiosity, rather than in an official capacity.

“Frankly, I’ve never seen a landslide this closely after it happened,” he said. “Certainly, we know saturated slopes of a certain incline are always a concern. This is interesting.”

For more on the slide, see Tuesday’s Aspen Times.