Report details fatal avalanche near Beaver Creek
Colorado Avalanche Information Center states snowpack near the avalanche site was thin and weak
A report from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center published Monday details the circumstances that led to the death of local backcountry adventurer Gary Smith near Beaver Creek on March 22.
The avalanche information center publishes its reports in an effort to help the people involved, and the community as a whole, better understand the avalanches that occur in Colorado, and offers comments in the hope that they will help people avoid future avalanche accidents.
The report also details weather and snowpack conditions. The nearest USDA snow telemetry site to the avalanche is at McCoy Park in Beaver Creek.
“On February 1, 2021, there was only 24 inches of total snow depth at the McCoy Park SNOTEL site, located at 9,480 feet, approximately 2.2 miles north of the accident site,” the according to the report. “The McCoy Park SNOTEL recorded 29 inches of snow in multiple storms during February. The total snow depth was 36 inches on March 1. The McCoy Park SNOTEL recorded 13 inches of snow and 1.3 inches of snow water equivalent in the 10 days before the accident, but the total snow depth was still only 36 inches on March 21.”
CAIC said snowpack near the avalanche site was thin and weak.
“The total snow depth adjacent to the crown was between 100 and 125 cm (between 40 and 50 inches). Boot penetration was to the ground adjacent to the starting zone and adjacent to the runout,” according to the report. “Investigators found it was easy to push their ski poles the entire way through the snowpack.”
After exiting the Beaver Creek ski area through a permanently closed boundary near the top of the Larkspur Express Lift, the skiers involved in the avalanche traversed west into the Lime Creek drainage where they found a steep, northwest-facing chute in the below treeline elevation band, according to the report.
“The two skiers traversed through sparse trees along the ridge above the steep starting zone, trying to find the best way to enter the chute,” the report states. “They stopped at a few places and assessed the snowpack depth with their avalanche probes. Skier 2 recalled measuring about 150 centimeters of total snow depth. They continued traversing down the ridge to an area on the skier’s left side of the starting zone and prepared to descend.”
Skier 1 dropped out of Skier 2’s view, and moments later, Skier 2 saw a powder cloud and realized there had been an avalanche in the chute, according to the report.
“Skier 1 triggered a small avalanche that broke near the ground on the chute’s rocky left edge,” the report states. “The avalanche carried Skier 1 through a narrow rock-walled gully and over a 75-foot cliff. The avalanche stopped about 1,000 feet below the ridgeline.”
Skier 2 turned his avalanche transceiver to search, got a signal on his transceiver and was able to locate Skier 1 quickly, the report states.
“Skier 2 uncovered Skier 1, but unfortunately, he was not alive,” the report states.
Skier 2 called 911 at 2:12 p.m., but poor cell phone reception left him unsure if a rescue was forthcoming, the report states. The Eagle County Sheriff’s department determined Skier 2’s location from his cell phone signal and alerted the Beaver Creek Ski Patrol, and Beaver Creek Ski Patrol began the initial rescue at 3:03 p.m., according to the report. At approximately 4 p.m., searchers reached Skier 1 and confirmed he was deceased.
“Beaver Creek Ski Patrol used a snowcat with its winch attached to a tree to transport the patrollers and Skier 1 back to the ski area,” according to the report.
Beaver Creek Ski Patrol contributed also contributed to the accident investigation.
“We greatly appreciate their assistance,” the avalanche information center stated in its report.