DENVER (CBS4/AP) — The avalanche danger is high in Colorado’s northern and central mountains following one of the nation’s deadliest avalanches.
The Colorado Avalanche Information Center says the danger for slides is considerable in the Vail, Aspen and Front Range regions on Monday.
Five men died in an avalanche Saturday in a backcountry area on Loveland Pass. Four were snowboarding and one was skiing, and all were experienced in extreme terrain. They were participating in a snowboarding event called the Rocky Mountain High Backcountry Bash to raise money for the avalanche center.
Those killed were 32-year-old Christopher Peters of Lakewood; 32-year-old Joseph Timlin of Gypsum; 33-year-old Ryan Novack of Boulder; 36-year-old Ian Lamphere of Crested Butte; and 33-year-old Rick Gaukel of Estes Park.
Another snowboarder, identified by friends as Jerome Boulay, was buried and survived. He had been buried up to his neck for an hour before he was pulled out. The last body recovered was found buried 15 feed deep in the snow.
“I’ve never seen a situation where we’ve had five — actually six — people caught in the same avalanche and have five of them perish,” said Clear Creek County Sheriff Don Krueger.
The men were familiar with the unmarked and unpatrolled backcountry areas and were equipped with avalanche emergency gear and beacons.
“I figured they knew what they had been doing,” Peters’ father John told CBS4. “They had been doing it for a while.”
Dan Moroz, an instructor at Colorado Mountain College who teaches avalanche safety courses, says the risks of skiing and snowboarding in the backcountry are extremely high right now.
“Basically, when you’re traveling through avalanche terrain, you have to spread out. You only expose one person at a time, so that if an incident were to occur, everybody else can be part of the rescue to find that person. For all six people to be involved in one episode, they overlooked pretty much a cardinal sin of how to travel in avalanche-hazard terrain,” Moroz said.
A co-worker of Lamphere said he was surprised to learn the group was apparently all in the same vicinity on the slope at the time of the slide.
“I can’t imagine that Ian or people that are experienced would have been all traveling in that tight of a group and all been in a position to be all taken out by the same slide,” Sven Brunso told CBS4.
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 snowstorms that have been coming in this spring have just created a large slab on top of it.”
“It gives me comfort that he died doing what he loved and probably in his heart, he knew this may come to it too,” Timlin’s father Michael said.
Michael Timlin said his son was passionate about snowboarding and safety. He also said lone survivor Boulay is mourning the loss of his good friends.
“He’s feeling a lot of guilt right now. He lives in Aspen with a child and wife and we’re trying to reach out to him,” he said.
The Colorado Avalanche Information Center is assessing the site of the avalanche to learn more about it. The slide was about 8 to 10 feet deep and traveled down the Sheep Creek drainage. Brunso said it was triggered from the bottom, which is rare.
A small memorial was set up on Loveland Pass for the victims on Sunday.
“(Chris) was a good man,” his father said. “He was on top of his game. This is just a tragedy.”
“The kind that kills people are what we call slab avalanches. So when a cohesive plate of snow slides off the mountainside like a magazine sliding off of an inclining table and a person is out in the middle of the slab … there’s no escape,” Bruce Tremper, U.S. National Forest avalanche forecaster, told CBS News.
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.
“Hold your kids tight. Let them do what they want, what they aspire to do,” Michael Timlin said.
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