Colorado’s avalanche season claimed 8 lives. Experts say there’s much to learn from how they died.

Jason Blevins | The Colorado Sun
Looking from the debris up toward the start zone of an avalanche that caught and killed two Colorado men in February 2019. The dotted blue line shows the location of the summer trail that the men were following, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.
Courtesy Colorado Avalanche Information Center

Renowned avalanche researcher Dale Atkins wanted to see the carnage first-hand.

He skied up Stevens Gulch Road below Grays and Torreys after the early March avalanches, crossing massive debris piles laced with splintered trees. As he climbed toward treeline below Kelso Mountain, the white snow turned dusty red.

“Like we would see from a dust event,” Atkins said. “But it wasn’t desert dust. The snow to my right was white. While around this jumbled, tangled mess of crushed trees, it was dark red. I realized it was dust from pulverized bark on trees just getting crushed and thrashed. I think people are going to be stunned and amazed as they head off to do their adventures in the backcountry this summer. There are plenty of surprises waiting for us as we head out into the mountains right now.”

The 2018-19 winter in Colorado held plenty of surprises for avalanche watchers. The avalanche cycle in March stirred once-in-a-lifetime slides. Eight men lost their lives in slides, all of them beloved figures in their tight-knit mountain communities. Four of them were fathers.

It was a tragic season for fatalities and one that avalanche researchers will be studying for a long time, trying to draw information that could help reduce the risk of future avalanches, but also place the season’s historic slide activity in context.

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