OPHIR, Colo. (CBS4) – A major avalanche was triggered in the Ophir backcountry Wednesday when two brothers were skiing a popular route.
Brian Holmes, 26, and Alex Holmes, 27, were skiing from Trout Lake to Ophir and were on top of the Fatwa area when Brian began his decent, triggering an avalanche. Alex witnessed the massive slide sweep his brother down the mountain and out of sight.
Alex tried to ski down to search for his brother, but that triggered a second avalanche. He did not feel it was safe enough to continue and so he skied back to Trout Lake to call for help.
San Miguel County Sheriff’s deputies were dispatched just after 1 p.m., and Search and Rescue volunteer launched a helicopter.
During the mission, dispatchers reported that they received calls from a cellphone belonging to Brian Holmes coming from the area of the slide. Breathing could be heard, but no further communication was established.
Brian said he was able to pull himself out of the slide after being carried an estimated 1,000 feet down the mountain, ultimately landing on his back and mostly buried in snow with only his face and an arm exposed.
He said it took about 15 minutes to get out, then he began searching for his brother, who he thought was dead.
After searching and attempting to call 911 for an hour, Brian made his way down to the Town of Ophir, reaching deputies at about 2 p.m.
Brian was assessed at the Telluride Medical Center and treated for non-life threatening injuries.
“The San Juans in general can represent some of the most tenuous snow conditions on the continent. Given the circumstances and nature of the slide, this skier is extremely fortunate,” said Sheriff’s Deputy Todd Rector who led the operation.