Skiers survive avalanche |

Skiers survive avalanche

Mike Hagan

Two backcountry skiers now have an incredible story to tell, but they’re lucky they are still alive to tell it.

They were making turns down a face called Garrett’s Peak near Snowmass ski area when they triggered an avalanche that one witness said was two or three football fields wide.

Dave Richie, who was guiding several skiers into the area, said the two skiers disappeared underneath a cloud of white.

“At first it was like watching a slow-motion movie,” said Richie, who has been a guide for one year and a backcountry skier for 15. “It fractured, and then big chunks started to move. Soon after that, things started moving really fast.”

One of the skiers escaped fairly quickly, Richie said. But the other skier was taken the entire length of the slide. Toward the bottom of the 1,000-foot runoff he popped back into sight.

“The first person [who had skied the run ahead of the other two] was able to get to him,” Richie said. “The slide was easily deep enough to have buried him. He was just incredibly fortunate that he was OK. I still can’t believe that he just popped out and was able to walk out of there.”

Richie said the chunks of snow at the bottom of the slide were “refrigerator-sized and smaller.” The avalanche broke free in a heart shape, he said, with each side of the heart at least a football field long. The depth of the fracture was two or three feet. The slide was so big, Richie said he could easily see its aftermath from Highway 82 as he rode the bus home later in the day.

The names of the skiers weren’t available at press time. Richie knew only their first names – Dan and Dale.

Richie and his group of skiers were also fortunate. They were, in fact, heading toward Garrett Peak to make some turns in the fresh powder.

After getting back to Snowmass, the topic of what caused the avalanche was the hot item at local watering holes. Kurt Lageschulte, another guide who witnessed the avalanche, told Richie he believes the dust that fell from the sky last week as dirty snow may have had something to do with it.

The dirt may have made for an unstable layer of snow under the fresh dumping that fell last weekend. The darker layer also may have attracted the sun’s heat, Richie said, making it prone for a slide.

“It’s easy for people to get lulled into thinking the danger’s over now that spring skiing is here,” he said. “In this case some people got lucky – extremely lucky.”

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