Senator Beck Basin, Eric Ming photo
PRELIMINARY REPORT: A group of backcountry skiers participating in an avalanche safety course triggered an avalanche on the afternoon of January 5. All six members of the group were caught in the avalanche. The avalanche released a second avalanche sympathetically. The second avalanche ran over the debris pile of the first slide. One member of the group was buried in the debris of the two avalanches. The rest of the group located him and extricated him from under at least 2.5 m of snow. They tried to revive him on site but were unsuccessful. The rest of the group made their way to US 550 with the help of San Juan County Search and Rescue, Ouray Mountain Rescue, La Plata County Search and Rescue, Careflight, and the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.
Fatal avalanche involved students with Silverton Avalanche School
A group of backcountry skiers caught in an avalanche last weekend, leaving one dead, was taking part in an avalanche safety course with the Silverton Avalanche School, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.
In all, six people were caught in an avalanche Saturday.
One member, Peter Marshall, 40, of Longmont, was buried under at least 8 feet of snow. The group was able to dig Marshall out, but attempts to revive him on scene were unsuccessful.
Marshall’s death marked the first avalanche fatality this winter in Colorado.
Calls to Silverton Avalanche School director Jim Donovan were not returned, and the school’s assistant director, Melanie Russek, declined to comment.
The Silverton Avalanche School at 11 a.m. Monday posted a statement to its Facebook page saying the group was on a Recreational Level 2 American Institute of Avalanche Research and Education Avalanche Course, which is geared for advanced backcountry recreationalists
“This tragic accident impacts all of us and our deepest condolences go out to the family,” the school wrote. “Our number one priority at this time is ensuring the safety and well being of the family of the victim and the students and staff involved in the accident.”
The Silverton Avalanche School posted that this is the first avalanche fatality in since the school began operations in 1962.
“We would like to thank all of the first responders who aided in the rescue, San Juan County Search and Rescue, Ouray Mountain Rescue, La Plata County Search and Rescue, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center and Careflight,” the school wrote.
According to a preliminary report, an avalanche triggered by the group set off a second avalanche, catching Marshall in its path, in the area of Upper Senator Beck Basin, northwest of Red Mountain Pass, at about 13,000 feet in elevation.
The rest of the group made its way to U.S. Highway 550 with the help of emergency rescue personnel.
Greene said the Colorado Avalanche Information Center will conduct a full investigation into the details of the incident. As of Monday morning, the center was about a third complete with its interviews and investigation.
Staff with the center has been unable to visit the site because of weather conditions, though employees will try Monday or Tuesday.
“A lot of the information we’d collect will be destroyed because of this storm, but we’ll collect as much as we can,” he said.
Greene said the center hopes to have a full report about the avalanche within a week.
He made clear, however, the center’s report is not in anyway a criminal investigation.
“We don’t have that regulatory authority,” he said. “It’s just a more detailed look at the event.”
As with any death, authorities will investigate whether any crime was committed.
Calls to the Ouray County Sheriff’s Office were not returned Monday morning.
Greene said there is some precedent in Colorado for deaths of people who are taking part in an avalanche course. In 2005, a skier died in an avalanche safety course outside Aspen, he said.
Staff with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center spoke with the guide who led the trip Saturday, but Greene declined to go into more detail.
According to Marshall’s LinkedIn account, he worked at Specialty Products in Longmont. Calls to the company’s CEO were not returned Monday morning. His profile also says he graduated from Colorado School of Mines in 2001.
According to its website, the Silverton Avalanche School says its instructors are recognized members of the American Avalanche Association, American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education, and the Canadian Avalanche Association.
“All have gone through a rigorous training and education process,” the website says.
A DEADLY SLIDE
Avalanche School student killed at Red Mountain Pass
San Juan County is facing possible liability in deadly slide San Juan County officials have expressed some concern that the county may have some liability exposure for an avalanche fatality that occurred in Ouray County last weekend. The avalanche death occurred during a Silverton Avalanche School program at Red Mountain Pass.
The avalanche school is a function of San Juan County Search-and-Rescue. Search-and-rescue gets its authority under state statute via the Sheriffs Department.