News: Colorado Dry Gulch Avalanche Fatality Accident Report

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From the Colorado Avalanche Information Center:

Avalanche Comments

A good example of a cross loaded slope. The western flank ran along a ridge with numerous spruce trees and krumholtz islands which acted as a snow fence. This allowed the western flank to accumulate the deepest snow deposits. Strong and persistent westerly winds in this area allowed deposits on the bed surface to grow to the deepest depths along the western flank. The eastern flank feathered out into rocky terrain with minimal snow coverage which was mostly faceted snow and depth hoar.

Weather Summary

The nearby Loveland Pass weather station from 10 am to 3 pm on 12/5/2010: Temperatures rising from 21F to 23F. Winds were from the west-southwest 10 to 16 mph with a high gust of 31 mph at 3 pm. At nearby Berthoud pass from noon to 3 PM: Temperature a steady 19F. Winds were stronger from the west-northwest 28 to 39 mph with a peak gust of 44 mph.

Snowpack Summary

The crown profile showed a crown height varying from 30 cm to 125 cm in depth. A thin fist hard faceted layer was sandwiched between a one finger hard bed surface and a one finger hard wind slab. The slab stepped to the ground about 25 vertical feet below the crown

Events Leading to the Avalanche

Subject 1 had some background with the Dry Gulch area. They had ski patrolled at Loveland Basin for a few years and this was one of the areas Subject 1 had explored. Subject 1 checked the avalanche advisory on Saturday, Subject 2 had checked it Sunday morning. They were both regular users of the avalanche forecast. Both members of the party broke trail up the eastern or climbers left side of the north-northeast aspect slope. They had looked at a few other lines but either did not like the terrain or there were other groups in the vicinity. Once they got to tree line they moved a little further west to look at a different line around a treed ridge. This path was well scoured from wind and did not have much snow coverage. Both decided to return to the original route. At the top both parties made a plan and reviewed potential safe spots. Subject 1 made a ski cut across the top of the path heading east, across a convex wind roll. Subject 1 stopped at an apex of their up track and turned to signal Subject 2 that it felt ok and they could descend to the pre-determined safe spot. At this pre-determined safe spot, Subject 2 stopped and turned to watch Subject 1 begin their descent a little further to skiers right of Subject 2's line and close to the center of the path. This area had a shallower snowpack depth when compared to the further west line taken by Subject 2. As Subject 1 descended to just about even with Subject 2, Subject 2 heard a loud boom and watched the slab buckle and break into refrigerator sized blocks.

Read The Full Report Here

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