DENVER (AP/CBS4) – Authorities have released the names of four Colorado snowboarders and one skier killed over the weekend in the state’s deadliest avalanche in more than 50 years.
Clear Creek County Sheriff Don Krueger said search and rescue crews recovered the men’s bodies from a backcountry area on Loveland Pass several hours after Saturday afternoon’s slide, which was estimated to be about 600 feet wide and eight feet deep. All of the men were equipped with avalanche beacons.
The sheriff identified the victims Sunday as Christopher Peters, 32, of Lakewood; Joseph Timlin, 32, of Gypsum; Ryan Novack, 33, of Boulder; Ian Lanphere, 36, of Crested Butte; and Rick Gaukel, 33, of Estes Park. Another snowboarder, identified by friends as Jerome Boulay, was buried and survived, but authorities have not released his condition.
The Denver Post reported Sunday the group of men, all experienced in extreme terrain, were participating in a snowboarding event called the Rocky Mountain High Backcountry Bash to raise money for the Colorado Avalanche Information Center when the slide occurred.
Snowboarder Mike Bennett of Dillon told the newspaper he dug through hard-packed snow to help free Boulay before finding two others buried about two feet below the surface.
“They were wrapped around each other, below a patch of trees,” he said.
Bennett said four of the victims were snowboarders and one was a skier.
Meanwhile, Adam Schmidt, editor in chief of Snowboard Colorado Magazine, told The Associated Press the event organized by Timlin, “ironically,” was aimed at promoting backcountry safety.
“Joe is really about the snowboarding community in Colorado,” said Schmidt, whose magazine was an event sponsor. “He really stressed making this event about backcountry safety. … Unfortunately, if Mother Nature decides to throw something at you, you can never be too prepared.”
The slide occurred on a spring weekend when many skiers and snowboarders took advantage of late season snowfall in the Rocky Mountains. Loveland Pass, which rises to an elevation of 11,990 feet about 60 miles west of Denver, is popular among backcountry skiers and snowboarders, but dangerous conditions are common in the area even in the spring.
John Peters of Lakewood told CBS4’s Howard Nathan his son Chris was a wonderful person and a hardworking engineer who went to Highlands Ranch High School and Metro College. He said his son never expressed any fear of facing an avalanche.
“No close calls, no nothing … the people up there said this was just kind of a fluke thing that they just triggered that avalanche and they were in the wrong spot,” John Peters said.
Ethan Greene, director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, said a systemic weakness in the snowpack was exacerbated by heavy snow that fell on the pass over the past week and a half.
“It’s been something that’s been giving us problems all winter,” he said. “But the snow storms that have been coming in this spring have just created a large slab on top of it.”
Forecasters for the avalanche center warned skiers and hikers again Sunday of potentially dangerous backcountry conditions, saying the new snow has pushed the old snowpack to the breaking point.
On Thursday, a 38-year-old snowboarder died in an avalanche south of Colorado’s Vail Pass. Eagle County sheriff’s officials said the man and another snowboarder likely triggered the slide after a friend on a snowmobile dropped them off at the top of Avalanche Bowl.
According to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, 11 people have died in avalanches in Colorado this winter season.
Greene said Saturday’s was the deadliest in the state since 1962, when seven people were killed in a slide that wiped out several homes in the town of Twin Lakes near Independence Pass.
U.S. avalanche deaths climbed steeply after 1990, averaging 24 a year, as new gear became available for backcountry travel. Until then, avalanches rarely claimed more than a handful of lives each season in records going back to 1950.
– By THOMAS PEIPERT, Associated Press
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