Roaring Fork Valley man killed in Express Creek avalanche
January 21, 2019
A Roaring Fork Valley man died Monday morning in an avalanche in the Express Creek drainage of the Castle Creek Valley, authorities said.
Emergency dispatchers received a call at 10:19 a.m. from a Mountain Rescue Aspen member reporting that one man in the area of the Markley Hut was caught in the avalanche, which occurred shortly before the call, said Alex Burchetta, director of operations at the Pitkin County Sheriff's Office.
"We have one confirmed fatality," Burchetta said.
The man, who was about 50 years old, was staying at the Markley Hut with five other people, including family members and friends, said Capt. Jesse Steindler, patrol supervisor for the Pitkin County Sheriff's Office. The man who died and another man left the hut to ski Monday morning when the man was caught in an avalanche, he said. His friend was not caught in the slide, Steindler said.
The friend was able to ski down to where he thought his skiing partner disappeared, poked around in the snow and located the man, Steindler said. The man uncovered his friend and performed CPR on him, but could not revive him, he said.
The man then went back up to the Markley Hut to get more help. He returned with others — which included the MRA volunteer who was in the backcountry with another person on a separate trip — and CPR was started again, but they could not revive the man, Steindler said.
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The MRA member had a radio on him and was able to notify emergency dispatchers of the situation, he said.
The Pitkin County Coroner's Office knows who the victim is but is not releasing his name until the next of kin has been notified.
Twenty-six MRA volunteers mobilized Monday morning to retrieve the body and help escort other members of the man's party out of the backcountry, according to a Pitkin County Sheriff's news release. The man's body and the entire party from the Markley Hut, as well as all MRA volunteers, were out of the backcountry by 3:15 p.m. Monday, Steindler said.
"Conditions out there were very treacherous," he said, alluding to snow that began falling soon after the avalanche was reported and didn't stop all day.
The members of the hut group were put in contact with the Aspen Hope Center for grief counseling services, according to a news release.
The Colorado Avalanche Information Center reported Monday afternoon the slide was on a "north-northeast facing slope at about 11,200 feet, breaking 2 feet deep, 400 feet wide, and running about 200 vertical feet." A CAIC investigator was on scene to try and determine the cause of the avalanche, Steindler said.
The Markley Hut is located outside Ashcroft in the Express Creek drainage and is part of the Alfred A. Braun hut system.
The CAIC had warned of potential unstable snow in the backcountry and issued a "special avalanche advisory Saturday through Monday, according to its website.
"Avalanche conditions are dangerous," the advisory stated. "Backcountry travelers can easily trigger very large and deadly avalanches.
"Since Jan. 11, the CAIC has documented 10 people caught in avalanches, 44 avalanches triggered by backcountry travelers and over 280 avalanches in total."