Lakewood snowmobiler dies in slide near Breck
A massive avalanche on the north face of Mount Guyot near Breckenridge killed a 39-year-old Lakewood man who was snowmobiling in the area Wednesday.
The man, identified as Darin Heitman, is the first to die in an avalanche this season in Colorado.
“That’s pretty remarkable being as we’re pushing mid-March and have only one fatality,” said Knox Williams, an avalanche and weather forecaster with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. “In a normal year, we’d have five of our average six by this time of year.”
The man and two others snowmobiled from Park County to Summit County Wednesday morning. The two other snowmobilers did not get trapped in the slide, which rescue personnel described as a “heavy, huge slide.”
The area where the avalanche occurred is prone to slides, rescuers said. The 40-degree slope is near a cabin known as Avalanche Cabin around which slides tend to release.
Heitman was “highmarking” on his snowmobile when the avalanche broke about 500 feet above him. His friends tried to find him but were unsuccessful. One located a Good Times Snowmobile Tours tour director in the area, who radioed the tour company, which notified 911 at 12:15 p.m.
Flight for Life pilots flew 14 members of the Summit Search and Rescue Team and two avalanche rescue dogs to the scene, according to Summit Search and Rescue group leader Glen Kraatz.
Rescuers located Heitman’s snowmobile and began probing the snow in an attempt to find him.
According to Kraatz, rescuers typically find riders directly uphill or downhill of their machine, and Heitman was found about 30 feet downhill from his.
“A good Samaritan in the area was probing, and he thought he felt something, so he called over a rescuer who tried the probe and that was it,” Kraatz said. “They called over a dog, and the dog immediately alerted and started frantically digging. Everyone was pretty sure we had the person.”
Heitman did not have an avalanche beacon on him, but his two friends did. Summit County Ambulance paramedic Lauri Mignone said her crews believed Heitman was buried for an hour before rescuers extricated him.
“The magic number is 30 minutes,” Kraatz said. “At that point, your chances are less than 50-50, provided there was no trauma.”
By 1:45 p.m. rescuers were trying to get the man to breathe again. He was pronounced dead on scene at 2:18 p.m.
Summit County coroner Joanne Richardson said the cause of his death has yet to be determined. Most people caught in avalanches, however, die of massive trauma.
The debris field was 1,000 feet long, the fracture line was 400 to 600 yards long and the slide was 1 to 10 feet in depth. Some chunks of debris at the bottom were as large as cars, Kraatz said.
“That would be expected on north- and northeast-facing slopes,” Williams said. “They’re getting into that old sugar snow that’s been there all season.”
Avalanche conditions in the northern mountains were rated “moderate,” with pockets of “considerable” on steep, northwest- to east-facing slopes.
“This would fit into our description of a considerable area,” Williams said. “All the other (aspects) have been warmed up pretty good, they’ve set up pretty good, but not these north, northeast and east slopes.
Those slopes are also among the most popular with backcountry recreationalists.
“That’s where people would want to travel,” Williams said. “That’s where the better snow would be.”
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