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Slide area near Aspen causes concern

Charles Agar
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” It’s not a matter of if; it’s a matter of when.

The glut of snow in the narrow chutes high above Castle Creek, south of Aspen, has to come down either as water (and county officials expect a possible banner runoff season) or as a potentially devastating snow slide or avalanche, according to Pitkin County undersheriff Joe DiSalvo.

Pitkin County officials have begun the planning phase of a possible incident along Castle Creek, especially for the area near Conundrum Creek some four miles south of Highway 82, DiSalvo said.



There are expert teams ready to respond (officials also plan for flood, wildfire and pandemic). And county officials recently contracted with Hal Hartman, a local avalanche expert, to develop a long-range plan for avalanches in the area, DiSalvo said.

“He’s the guy we trust when it comes to this,” said DiSalvo. “He is our eyes and ears.”




The danger, DiSalvo said, is any significant storm loading the steep, narrow chutes near the road ” as well as snow that is very heavy with moisture. Any prolonged warming also could trigger an avalanche, DiSalvo said.

Hartman warned county officials not to trigger the slides intentionally, DiSalvo said. The situation along Castle Creek is stable for now, he added.

In 1994, a massive slide near Conundrum Creek killed one man sleeping in a teepee, DiSalvo said. And a subsequent slide closer to the intersection of Castle Creek and Highway 82 closed the canyon, preventing rescuers from getting to the site to recover the body or search for other potential victims.

“There was a lot of controversy over our reaction,” DiSalvo said, adding that no matter what happens, it’s important to keep rescuers safe.

“You can’t put rescuers at risk,” DiSalvo said.

In the wake of the 1994 incident, county officials recommend Conundrum Creek Road residents wear avalanche beacons when driving up the road during times of extreme avalanche danger. The Conundrum Creek Valley splits off from the Castle Creek Valley to the west.

And since then, sheriff’s deputies have carried avalanche beepers in their cars, and deputies are being outfitted with new beacons this season to keep up with technological advances, DiSalvo said.

The undersheriff is not recommending Castle Creek residents carry a beacon but said that if Hartman warns of dangerous avalanche conditions, a county public information officer would inform area residents of any potential disaster.

There are no homes directly in an avalanche path, DiSalvo said, and longtime residents of the Castle Creek Valley know of the danger.

“We would do our best to notify the public how to prepare for it,” DiSalvo said.

“We’re on it the best we can.”

But avalanches are very unpredictable, DiSalvo said, adding, “We’ve also been told it could melt and be no problem.”

cagar@aspentimes.com

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