Skier dies in avalanche outside Aspen Highlands
ASPEN – A backcountry skier was killed in an avalanche Monday afternoon in an area between Maroon Bowl and Tonar Bowl, outside the boundary of the Aspen Highlands ski area, the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office said.
The victim was identified as Adam Brady Dennis, 38, of Aspen. His body couldn’t be removed from the area Monday because of the danger of additional snow slides, Deputy Sheriff Adam Crider said.
“It sounds like it was a very dangerous situation up there,” he said.
A recovery effort by Mountain Rescue Aspen will be attempted Tuesday if conditions allow, according to Crider.
The accident occurred in an area known as Desolation Row, also known just as Desolation, a bowl regarded as one of the best lines for backcountry skiing in the Aspen area, according to a source familiar with the area. The bowl is on the west side of Highlands Ridge. Desolation provides about 4,000 vertical feet from the ridgetop to the Maroon Creek Valley floor. The slide reportedly started about one-third of the way down the bowl and carried a considerable distance, the source said.
There were five skiers in the group, the sheriff’s office said. None of the other four were injured. Dennis was the last of the five to ski the bowl, authorities said after interviews with the survivors. The members of the group carried avalanche beacons, authorities said.
One of the survivors is employed by a local backcountry guide company, but the group wasn’t on a commercial tour, Crider said. It was just some friends skiing together.
Dennis was buried, located by the others in the party and resuscitation efforts were started, Crider said. The victim couldn’t be revived.
Others in the party had a “very bad signal” from the mountainside and were able to call authorities by cell phone at 2:45 p.m., Crider said. They came off the mountain to the Maroon Creek Valley in two groups of two.
Officials with Mountain Rescue and the sheriff’s office assessed the stability of the snow in the area of the slide Monday afternoon and determined a recovery operation couldn’t be safely launched.
Dennis was a self-employed photgrapher and worked in the hospitality business, according to his Google profile. He was a passionate skier, biker, biker and camper and loved the overall mountain lifestyle, he said in the profile.
The avalanche danger was rated “considerable” near and above treeline in the Aspen zone Monday, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC). “Triggered avalanches are likely in lee and cross loaded areas at these higher elevations,” the forecast said.
The danger was “moderate” below treeline. “Triggered soft slab avalanches failing in the new storm snow layer are possible, especially in steeper terrain at the lower elevations,” the CAIC report for Monday said.
Brian McCall, a CAIC forecaster, said a storm Sunday dumped 12 to 15 inches of snow in the higher peaks around Aspen and was accompanied by high wind. That created wind-loaded areas that will remain a top concern until they are stabilized. The snowpack at this time of year tends to “settle down” but there is a “window right after a storm” when triggered releases of slabs can be a problem, McCall said.
The second concern with the Aspen-area snowpack is deeply buried, weak layers that formed in January and February.
“We continue to receive reports of isolated, large, triggered slab avalanches that are occurring,” McCall’s Monday forecast said. “The most recent one happened on the Aspen side of Independence Pass on Saturday. It was triggered on a north facing slope at 11,500 ft. The crown was estimated to be 2-10 feet deep. It failed in the old snowpack running full track to the valley floor, about 2,000 vertical feet below.”
Monday’s slide victim was the sixth person killed in the Colorado backcountry by an avalanche this winter, according to CAIC. One of the prior victims was caught in a slide Feb. 22 in Sand’s Chute, above the East Snowmass Creek Valley, outside of Snowmass Ski Area.