Weekend avalanche buries three near Vail
January 19, 2009
VAIL, Colorado ” Three backcountry skiers dug themselves out of a 600-yard wide avalanche Friday outside of Vail, Colorado, according to avalanche authorities.
The three men, who were staying at the Eiseman Hut north of Vail, were scouting a nearby slope when the slide, which measured up to 10 feet deep, was triggered. One of the men was wearing snowshoes and took a step at the bottom of the slope, which started the slide, said Scott Toepfer, avalanche forecaster for the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.
All three men were fully buried. One man had to use an Avalung, an avalanche breathing device, for 15 minutes before he was able to dig a breathing hole and extricate himself. Another man reported that he was buried for an hour before digging himself out, and the other had caught his ski on a tree and dug himself out.
None of the men was hurt, and all were carrying avalanche equipment.
“It was an unbelievably close call,” Toepfer said. “We’ve got some lucky boys.”
The avalanche danger for that area was “considerable,” with “human triggered slides probable” ” that’s two levels below the highest danger level. The slide happened on an October rain crust, where rain in the fall had formed a frozen layer that created a sliding surface for snow that accumulated on top of it.
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There had been a few other slides reported in that area earlier in the week.
The slide is one of the latest in what has been an active year for avalanches. The Vail area had the most avalanches in the state for the month of January, Toepfer said.
There have been 97 reported avalanches to date in the area between Vail Pass and Beaver Creek, not counting slides within the ski areas, he said.
The avalanche information center recommends extra caution in wake of the large slides. Backcountry users need to inspect the snow layers below the mid-pack slab with a shovel and pole, ride one at a time, never commit to a line without an escape route, and carry proper avalanche equipment.
Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2928 or email@example.com.