SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) — A long-time employee of the Boulder Valley School District has been identified as the latest avalanche victim in Colorado — the fourth avalanche fatality in just nine days. Dariusz Krol, 57, was killed Saturday while skiing in an area on Berthoud Pass, locally known as Chimney Chute, according to officials with Grand County Search and Rescue.
Krol’s family was in the parking lot, watching him come down when they lost sight of him.
“They didn’t know if he was lost, or … what had happened because where the avalanche happened was not visible,” said Rain Fiore, Public Information Officer for Grand County Search and Rescue.
It took a considerable amount of time to locale Krol after the team arrived. Fiore said Krol was skiing by himself and not wearing a beacon.
“There’s a lot of say about, ‘Well, he was alone, so what good would a beacon have done,’ but it really would’ve, because we would’ve found him faster. We would’ve exposed ourselves to avalanche conditions for a lot less period of time,” Fiore continued, “If somebody had come down behind him, they could’ve searched for him. If he had witnessed someone else in an avalanche, he could’ve searched, but having a beacon, even if you’re solo is still a good idea.”
The Boulder Valley School District issued the following statement upon learning of his death:
“We were saddened to hear this morning of the passing of Dariusz (Darek) Krol. Darek has been a long-time Boulder Valley School District employee, working in the IT Department for the past 15 years. Our thoughts are with Darek’s family and friends during this difficult time.”
In general, experts advise backcountry users never recreate alone, but even with a partner, conditions can be hazardous.
On Dec. 19, two experienced backcountry skiers were caught, buried, and killed in an avalanche in the North San Juan Zone. They were in an area locally known as the Battleship, southeast of Ophir Pass. Both deployed airbags according to a report by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC), but neither survived.
The first fatality of the season happened near Crested on Dec. 18, when a solo skier was buried and killed in an avalanche in the Anthracite Range. According to the CAIC, tere were several tracks on the slope, including multiple by the person later killed before the avalanche released.
“There were just a lot of red flags and people get really stoked to ride in the backcountry with COVID and the ski lifts being what they are, and it’s easy to ignore the signs,” said Jennifer Nisco.
Nisco is on the La Platta County Search and Rescue Team and was on scene for the Dec.19 incident. CBS4 just happened to meet Nisco while she was backcountry skiing with her husband at Vail Pass on Monday.
“Every day we look at the CAIC website and check the avalanche conditions and kinda see what the area is,” she said. “With the avy dangers we are opting to keep it pretty low angle and we heard, Vail Pass, the north side is less than 30 degrees, so we don’t have to worry too much about that.”
According to the CAIC website, most areas in Colorado are listed in the considerable danger category. Early season snow, combined with a dry late November, created a weak layer in the snowpack. More snow expected Monday night into Tuesday for the high country, will mean even more heavy slabs above the weak layer. Avalanche danger is only expected to increase.
“On average, six people die in avalanches each year in Colorado. Although people have died in avalanches during every month of the year, most fatal accidents occur between October and May. We are three months into that eight-month period,” Said Ethan Greene, Director of the CAIC. “The last time we had four people killed in a December was 2008. There are 6 single months since 1950 where more than 4 people have died in avalanches in Colorado.”