Highlighting the danger inherent to backcountry boarding and skiing, five industry professionals were killed in an avalanche at Loveland, the most tragic Colorado incident in 50 years. All were part of the Rocky Mountain High Backcountry Bash, an event that was put-on to help fund avalanche safety and the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC).
According to a report from the CAIC, a backcountry touring party of six, on splitboards and skis, was caught in an avalanche in the Sheep Creek area near Loveland Pass. According to the Clear Creek County Sheriff’s Department (CCC SD), the avalanche occurred on Saturday, 20 April 2013 at 1pm, on the north-northeast aspect of the Sheep Creek drainage of Loveland Pass, along US 6.
Four of the riders and one skier were killed. Each of those fatally injured was an expert boarder or skier, and was using the latest avalanche gear. Ski-Patrol.net analysis of CAIC data has found that 50% more people have been killed in the 2012-2013 season than the average of the preceding 3 seasons in Colorado. We have also found an alarming statistic that may be emerging in CAIC fatality data. While only 19.1% of skiers died (14 of 73) after being caught in an avalanche over the last 4 seasons, 37.93% of boarders died (11 of 29) after getting caught in an avalanche.
CAIC reports that the group may have triggered the avalanche from below the start zone, low in the avalanche path. The avalanche released into old snow layers and the ground. Approximate dimensions of the crown face of the avalanche were 4 feet deep and 500 feet wide. The records of the CAIC confirm that 11 people have been killed in Colorado 2012 snow sports incidents, including 3 skiers and 6 snowboarders. Forty-two people have been caught in 2012 avalanche incidents, with 14 buried. Close to 80% of those buried in 2012 avalanche incidents were killed. No snowboarders were killed in the 2012 season.
The Loveland Ski Patrol responded, along with volunteer rescue personnel from surrounding areas, including the Alpine Rescue Group. Members of the group organizing the event appear to have been the first responders on scene. Since the probability of triggering an avalanche increases with the number in the backcountry party, the group had split up into several smaller groups (although 6 is not considered a small group in a slope where there is high avalanche danger), each skiing a different Loveland area. Joe Timlin, one of those killed, was the event organizer. CAIC and Colorado Department of Transportation workers notified group members that had already completed their runs in a different location, and those members were among the first on-scene.
According to a Denver Post report, the sole survivor of the avalanche, Jerome Boulay, is a sales representative with Silverton’s Venture Snowboards. He had his head and one arm above the surface when rescuers arrived on-scene approximately an hour after the avalanche. Boulay was extricated by rescuer Mike Bennett, a Dillon, Colorado resident. An account of the incident by Mike Bennett can be found on the Wild Snow Backcountry Skiing Blog.
The deceased victims were:
- Christopher Peters, 32, from Lakewood;
- Joseph Timlin, 32, from Gypsum;
- Ryan Novack, 33, from Boulder;
- Ian Lamphere, 36, from Crested Butte; and
- Rick Gaukel, 33, from Estes Park.