Skiers set off Snowmass slide; no one injured |

Skiers set off Snowmass slide; no one injured

Steve Benson

Two skiers set off an avalanche Monday afternoon inbounds at Snowmass Ski Area after allegedly ducking a rope into a permanently closed area. Ski patrollers and others on the mountain quickly searched for possible victims but later learned no one was caught in the slide.The patrol was notified via a cell phone call at 3:09 p.m. that a pair of skis were sticking out of avalanche debris near the Green Cabin cliffs between the Upper Green Cabin and Reidar’s runs, according to a news release. “When you see skis in a slide, you assume the worst and do everything you can to find anyone who might be caught in there as quickly as possible,” said Aspen Skiing Co. spokesman Jeff Hanle. “It’s a scary thing.”Patrol arrived six minutes later and began a search with probes, transceivers and two avalanche rescue dogs. Fifteen patrollers and 14 citizens took part in the search. The fracture was about a meter deep, 15 meters wide, and ran about 100 meters. At 3:42 p.m., two skiers appeared at the top of the Alpine Springs lift, one of them without his skis, Hanle said. It’s believed the skiers had hiked down to the lift after the avalanche. Hanle said the skiers admitted setting off the slide and that they were alone. The skier without his skis said he triggered the avalanche, grabbed onto a tree, and the force of the slide ripped his skis off and carried them to the bottom of the pitch. No one was injured. At 3:50 p.m., the search was called off and the Snowmass Village police were notified. Neither of the skiers has been identified pending the completion of the investigation, which is being directed by the Snowmass Village Police Department. But according to Snowmass Mountain Manager Doug Mackenzie, at least one of them was a local, and both of their passes – college passes – were pulled until the investigation is complete. “I think [the investigation] will go fairly quickly; we’ve taken pictures of the tracks,” Hanle said. If the investigation reveals the skiers knowingly ducked ropes into a closed area, they will be fined and their passes permanently pulled. It is not known why the individuals were tempted to ski in such an area. Aside from the run being permanently closed, the current snowpack is precariously fragile. Over the weekend, 57 avalanches were reported across the state, including a slide with a 6-foot crown near Snowmass. The avalanche danger was rated high on Monday. “We’ve gotten tons of snow lately, and there’s an increased potential for this type of incident,” Hanle said. “They were endangering a lot of lives other than their own.”It’s so crucial right now – all the time – that people obey the signs, no matter how smart they think they are or how much knowledge they think they have. Nobody is invincible.” Mackenzie said, “Things are closed for a reason. It’s not too smart [what they did].” A run is cut in the area where the slide had occurred, which is accessed off the Headwall to skiers’ left of the High Alpine lift. But the area has been closed for years.The avalanche was the fifth of the season involving people in Colorado. Two incidents – one skiing, the other climbing – occurred in the Silverton area in the fall, and in late November a skier was caught in a slide on Quandary Peak. The only avalanche fatality of the season in Colorado occurred Jan. 3 on Buffalo Pass near Steamboat when a backcountry skier was buried under 3 feet of snow. Steve Benson’s e-mail address is

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