Rifle-area slide claims snowmobiler | AspenTimes.com

Rifle-area slide claims snowmobiler

Phillip Yates, Heidi Rice and Pete Fowler
Glenwood Springs correspondents
Aspen, CO Colorado

RIFLE, Colo. ” The Garfield County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue responded to a report of an avalanche in Little Box Canyon north of Rifle Friday afternoon and found the body of a 45-year-old snowmobiler in the snow.

Sheriff Lou Vallario said the county’s search and rescue team found a man in the snow, two miles up the canyon north of Rifle Falls, at about 3 p.m. Friday. The name of the snowmobiler was not released.

“He was under the snow for quite a while,” Vallario said.

The Rifle Fire Department received the initial call about a person being stuck in the snow at 12:12 p.m., said Tanny McGinnis, a spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office.

“Shortly after responding to the scene, Garfield County sheriff’s deputies paged the Garfield County Search and Rescue Team,” McGinnis said. That call came in at about 12:30 p.m.

The avalanche scene was cleared around 3:30 p.m., according to the Rifle Fire Department.

The death is the fifth as a result of avalanches in Colorado so far this winter, said Spencer Logan of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. On average, six people die from avalanches each year in the state, he said.

The man’s death comes after two skiers were killed by avalanches in separate incidents in the East Vail Chutes last month. They were the first fatalities in the avalanche-prone backcountry area near the boundary of Vail Ski Resort in more than a decade.

Snowboarder Jesse Brigham, 27, died Jan. 4 in an avalanche in the East Vail Chutes. Eight days later and several hundred yards away, another slide killed local skier Matthew Gustafson, 33.

A week ago, a skier was caught in a shallow avalanche in the chutes but managed to escape without injury. The slide reportedly carried the skier over some cliffs before he was able to escape it.

Avalanche danger in the Rifle area was rated considerable Friday above treeline, and moderate below treeline, according to Logan. Considerable danger means human-triggered avalanches are likely, while moderate danger means human-triggered avalanches are possible.

Though Logan didn’t know the details of Friday’s incident, he said most of the terrain in the area north of Rifle is below treeline. He recommended staying out of noticeable avalanche chutes and checking avalanche forecasts at http://avalanche.state.co.us/. A slopes as small as 50 to 100 vertical feet can produce dangerous avalanches in certain conditions, Logan added.

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