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2 skiers swept in Aspen avalanche, one injured

THE ASPEN TIMES

ASPEN – Two men were caught in a skier-triggered avalanche off the west side of Aspen Mountain Friday afternoon and one was seriously injured.

The men were part of a group of four skiers who had dropped off the ridgeline about 200 yards south of the top of the Ruthie’s lift, outside the ski area. After skiing about 150 yards down the slope, a large avalanche broke at the feet of the two uppermost skiers. The slide caught the two skiers below them, according to the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office.

One man was able to swim to the side of the slide, anchoring himself to a tree and extricating himself from the avalanche. The other skier was swept about 100 yards down the slope, coming to rest completely buried and pinned against a tree, the sheriff’s office reported. Once unburied and pried from the tree, he was able to breathe.

The man suffered serious trauma to his chest, back and hand.

All of the skiers – three from Telluride and one from Boulder, all in their mid-20s – were equipped with avalanche beacons, shovels, probes and climbing skins, the sheriff’s office said. Their names were not released.

The avalanche crown was about 24 inches deep and 40 feet across; the slide ran about 1,500 feet.

Authorities used “cell phone triangulation” – calculating the distance from tower to phone based on signal strength – to pinpoint the skiers’ location in Ophir Gulch, known locally as Keno Woods, after receiving an emergency call at about 4 p.m. A rescue team involving the sheriff’s office, 20 Aspen Mountain Ski Patrol members and six members of Aspen Mountain Rescue, plus personnel from the Aspen Volunteer Fire Department, Aspen Ambulance and Snowmass Ambulance responded.

Nine ski patrollers reached the party about 45 minutes after the slide; they set two explosive charges below them, triggering another sizable avalanche, before setting up a lengthy relay of belays to lower the victim through unstable snow conditions, according to the sheriff’s office.

The victim was taken to Aspen Valley Hospital and then flown to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction. The rest of the skiers and the rescue team were out of the field by about 8:40 p.m. – two members of the ski group left the area via Midnight Mine Road with the rescue party; the third hiked back into the Aspen Mountain ski area with patrol members.

The avalanche danger Friday was rated considerable on all aspects near and above treeline in the Aspen area, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. Human-triggered avalanches remain probable under current conditions, according to the center.

More than 500 slides have been documented in the Colorado backcountry the past week, according to the CAIC, including one that killed an Aspen man near the Lindley Hut south of town on Tuesday. He was not wearing a beacon and a search by his companions was unsuccessful.


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