East Vail backcountry slides twice this month, avalanche danger remains considerable across the state
Editor’s note: All of the fatal avalanche deaths CAIC investigates are tragic events. CAIC does their best to describe each one to help people involved and the community as a whole better understand them. “We offer these comments in the hope that they will help people avoid further avalanche accidents.”
On Thursday, Feb. 4, there was a deadly avalanche in the popular East Vail backcountry terrain, accessed through a gate that takes skiers and snowboarders outside of the resort and its safety boundaries. About a week later on Saturday, Feb. 13, a non-fatal avalanche slide occurred in the area, burying one snowboarder who was rescued by his partner.
This weekend, with more snow in the forecast and unstable layers in the backcountry, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center is issuing “considerable” avalanche warnings for Vail and Summit County, with dangerous avalanche conditions expected, cautious route-finding being recommended and conservative decision-making deemed essential.
Considerable avalanche danger is in the forecast for most parts of Colorado, including Steamboat and the Flat Tops, Aspen and other areas of the state.
Recent East Vail avalanches tell of a dangerous backcountry season
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A CAIC report explains the details of the Feb. 13 slide. “The accident occurred on a northeast-facing below tree-line slope at about 10,000 feet,” the CAIC report says. “The rider was carried through the trees and completely buried with his head under about a foot and a half of snow. The rider was able to make an air pocket in front of his face and get his AvaLung in his mouth. His partner recovered him in 10 to 15 minutes using a transceiver. He was shaken up, but uninjured,” according to the report.
That snowboarder, along with his partner, have asked to remain anonymous, and the reports do not release their names.
On Thursday, Feb. 4, a longtime local was killed in an avalanche in East Vail in the area known as Marvin’s West or Big Marvin, a steep east-facing slope below treeline.
“This was a soft slab avalanche unintentionally triggered by a skier,” the CAIC report says. “Skiers 1 and 2 exited the Vail ski area through a backcountry access gate around 10:15 a.m. They hiked east for about 30 minutes … then they descended along the ridgeline.
“Skier 1 skied down through a series of cliff bands to a bench about 800 vertical feet below the ridge and waited for Skier 2. Skier 2 began her descent. She had skied about 300 vertical feet down to a narrow opening through a cliff band when she triggered a large avalanche that broke above her. … She managed to stay upright and came to a stop on the apron below the cliff band buried to her knees in avalanche debris.
“Skier 2 uncovered her skis and descended the debris field,” the report continues. “She looked and saw Skier 1 was not at their planned rendezvous point and noticed that the avalanche had run over and well past the bench where he was supposed to be waiting …
“It took Skier 2 approximately 10 minutes from the time of the avalanche to uncover her partner’s head.”
The East Vail backcountry area has little cell reception, which complicated rescue conversations.
For more information about avalanche dangers in Colorado and CAIC incident reports, visit http://www.avalanche.state.co.us.