Man killed in avalanche near Breckenridge ID’ed as experts warn of heightened danger | VailDaily.com

Man killed in avalanche near Breckenridge ID’ed as experts warn of heightened danger

Jack Queen
jqueen@summitdaily.com

The man who died in a backcountry avalanche on Tuesday was identified as 37-year-old Fritz Boehm of Sedalia, Colorado, by the Summit County Coroner's Office on Wednesday.

Coroner Regan Wood determined that Boehm died of suffocation after being buried in an avalanche while snowmobiling with a friend northwest of Glacier Peak near Georgia Pass. Boehm was a former Breckenridge resident and experienced backcountry rider, Wood said in an email.

Boehm was the second Colorado avalanche fatality in three days, underscoring the heightened danger posed by recent snowstorms and warming weather.

The other fatality occurred on April 8, when Aspen Mountain Rescue veteran John Galvin triggered a slide while ascending Maroon Bowl, a backcounty skiing area adjacent to Aspen Highlands Resort.

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center increased its avalanche danger forecasts from moderate to considerable in the Summit County region and most of the High Country on Wednesday, although that decision was based on weather conditions, not the pair of recent fatalities.

"There are a lot of ways to get yourself in trouble with avalanches right now," CAIC deputy director Brian Lazar said.

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Wind slab and deep persistent slab avalanches are both possible, and rising temperatures are increasing the likelihood of wet slab avalanches. Wednesday was the warmest day of the year so far, according to CAIC.

"We've got an evolving snowpack," Lazar said. "There's a bunch of recent storm snow that's getting wet, so that's the most likely avalanche. But we still have these lingering weak layers deeper in the snowpack, so that's the less likely avalanche that you're going to trigger but it will be much more destructive."

A CAIC investigator determined that Tuesday's slide was a deep persistent slab avalanche, meaning snow broke off all the way down to a layer of the season's first snow. The average crown depth was roughly two feet deep, Lazar said.

Boehm's friend was uninjured in Tuesday's avalanche, which the pair triggered at 11 a.m. As the slide grew to roughly 800 feet across, it started an adjacent avalanche as well.

The original slide was roughly 2,000 feet long. A dog team found Boehm approximately 900 feet from the bottom of the slide buried in four feet of snow, rescuers said.

"The victim was trying to dig out his snowmobile and was on the slope and his friend was coming down the slope, so because of the nature of these persistent slab avalanches, it could have been triggered by either of them," Lazar said.

The rescue attempt involved more than 30 people and included a Flight For Life helicopter and dog teams from Arapahoe Basin Ski Area and Breckenridge Ski Resort. They found Boehm roughly an hour and a half after the slide reported, navigating considerable "hang fire," or unstable snow above the avalanche that hadn't released.

An approaching storm is expected to make conditions worse, bringing up to a foot of snow through Saturday and lowering temperatures significantly.

"As we move into Friday, things are going to freeze up really good with this storm approaching," Lazar said. "Wet avalanches will drop off the table and we'll have to deal with a fresh round of storm instability."

The Summit County Rescue Group also warned of worsening avalanche conditions, noting that a non-burial slide was reported near the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnel during Tuesday's rescue.

"After the latest series of storms, snow conditions in Summit County remain tricky," the group wrote in a news release. "SCRG recommends that backcountry users continue to monitor the Colorado Avalanche Information Center's web site for the latest updates and always take the appropriate backcountry rescue gear."