Tim Lane, CDOT/CAIC Intern of the Year 2004.
There was tension in the voices heard over the crackle of the radio – between forecasters and the highway’s regional CDOT teams. Then, Jerry’s succinct words: “We’re in full conditions here,” the first hint that we might be witnessing a once-in-a-lifetime storm. But of course, at the time, none of us really knew. It was 11:00 pm, January 8, 2005, and it would be an understatement to say it was a stormy night. Forecaster Mark Rikkers was in one truck racing south towards Molas Pass, while lead forecaster Jerry Roberts and his visiting side-kick Tim Lane were headed the opposite direction up Red Mountain, checking on the rapidly deteriorating road conditions and increasing avalanche hazard threatening Highway 550, from the Uncompaghre Gorge above Ouray all the way to Coal Bank Pass – the north/south life-line of southwestern Colorado.
That night, after an already long day of shooting, I was allowed to stay behind and supposedly catch up on much-needed sleep. A night that was sleepless nonetheless, especially since around here we make a habit of snuggling with our Motorolas; no avalanche forecaster worth their Pisco Sours would be sleeping when it’s dumping nearly 4″ per hour on a severely burdened continental snowpack. So there I lay, wide awake, eavesdropping.
Using radio call names, Jerry Roberts is anxiously trying to reach Mark Rikkers: “3 Mary 5-1, this is 3 Mary 5-0; what’s your 20? Mark Rikkers: “Hey Jer, it’s 3 Mary 5-1, I finally made it to Molas Pass – really bad visibility; what’s happening your direction?“ Jerry: “Mark, I’m with a crazy woman stuck in a snowbank near the Muleshoe turn (below a particularly nasty avalanche path) – will need help getting her out so we can shut this highway down. Can’t reach the Red Mountain plow driver – can you try radioing from your location and send him our way?” Mark: “10-4, I’ll give it a try.”
So, trolling for something to do, I ventured an earnest call to Jerry (knowing it was probably a mistake). “Uhh, 3 Mary 5-0, this is 3 Mary 5-2; is there anything I can do from here?” Pause. Jerry, with the whole world listening and a storm puking 4″ an hour, replied, “Thanks 5-2, uhh yea…when we get this lady out we’ll be escorting her back to Silverton for the night, but she might not be able to find a place to stay…doesn’t speak very good English, think she’s Romanian…you think she could camp on your sofa for the night?” I pause, suspicious. “Uhh, yea, sure, I guess so.” Jerry: “Great! And one other thing…I think she’s from the circus … she has a monkey with her.”
Long pause. “Did you say MONKEY?” Jerry: “Ya, I think it’s a MONKEY. Will your dog be okay with that?”
East Riverside running over the shed.
Gary King photo
West Riverside the same day.
The Avalanche Review, February & April 2009
It’s anybody’s guess why forecasters do this job. It could be the smell of powder, throwing 50 pound shots from the helicopter, watching hard slab failure release energy over several alpine basins at once, or maybe just the company you keep.
Whatever the reasons, you get hooked on the excitement and the challenges of the job. It requires a lot of field experience (series of non-fatal errors), collection of empirical evidence, listening to your inner voice (intuition), and distilling all of the variables to reduce uncertainties until you can finally make a decision that you can live with. There are many truths to be learned. It’s no big mystery; you pay attention and do your work because you don’t want to be a victim of your own bad planning. It helps to be comfortable in the world of uncertainties.
East Riverside & snowshed..
Jefe/Señor CDOT foreman, Tim Lane
Your signature is your official stamp—your seal of approval. Whether you’re agreeing to an Employment Contract, witnessing a document or skiing the perfect slope, you will likely sign your name many times throughout your life.
Crédito total, Eric Ming
Living (and dying) in Avalanche Country by John Marshall and Jerry Roberts
DECEMBER 1, 1999
Review by Ed Quillen
Living (and dying) in Avalanche Country
by John Marshall and Jerry Roberts
Published in 1993 by Simpler Way Book Co.
WHERE MOUNTAINS RISE, snow generally falls. And from time to time, the snow merely pauses on a slope, waiting for a chance to descend again — this time as an avalanche.
Thus Central Colorado endures its share of avalanches. Three Western State College students were killed this spring by a snowslide on Cumberland Pass. In 1962, half the town of Twin Lakes was demolished by a slide that roared down Mt. Elbert. Monarch Pass gets closed, from time to time, by avalanches, as does the road to St. Elmo.
But the state’s major avalanche zone lies to the southwest, in the San Juan Mountains, where avalanches are not an occasional danger, but almost a daily fact of life (and death) for most of the year.
Living in Avalanche Country might be considered a social history of avalanches in some slide-prone territory. It passes over most of the science (things like moisture content and slope gradient) to focus on history and the human element from the vantage of Silverton — a one-time mining town in the heart of the range, where every route to town passes through slide zones.
Avalanches are the main reason that the narrow-gauge tourist train from Durango doesn’t run clear to Silverton in the winter — there’s the danger of a slide striking the train, and the constant expense of snow removal.
The Colorado Department of Transportation doesn’t enjoy the option of suspending operations in the winter, and authors Marshall and Roberts devote much of the book to that department’s heroic efforts to keep the highways open so that Silverton residents can get their groceries and mail.
Conceptually, the process is fairly simple. As soon as the clouds clear and the wind dies down after a storm, close the road. Use explosives to bring down the snow on the known avalanche runs — a map in the back of the book lists 40 named runs between Ouray and Silverton. Then plow the snow off the road, and wait for the next storm.
This began after World War II with a surplus army 75-mm howitzer, which was hauled on a trailer to where it could lob an explosive shell toward the top of the slide run. If all went well, it triggered the slide.
More cannons were added over the years, but by 1986, the security requirements for storing the ammunition exceeded what small towns could offer. So now a helicopter takes off after every storm with a pilot and a bombardier, who drops the charges. It’s safer and faster, and the same crew can handle Wolf Creek Pass, too.
On the ground, though, the road still has to be plowed, and the slides sometimes ignore the explosives, only to run later. On March 5, 1992, a snowshed on the East Riverside Slide saved the lives of four motorists who were trapped in it for 12 hours. But less than 200 feet away, outside the shed, two highway maintenance men had been buried under their plow truck.
One of them, Danny Jaramillo, kicked out the truck window, reached a little shovel he had aboard, and dug his way to the surface and then walked to the snowshed. It took 18 hours.
The other, Eddie Imel of Ouray died. His death led to improved procedures and better radios in the trucks, but the authors argue, rather convincingly, that if the East Riverside snowshed had been built to 1,100 feet long, rather than the money-saving 180 feet, the well-liked Eddie Imel would never have been swept to his death.
Living in Avalanche Country teems with first-person accounts from survivors, generally well-told. One of my favorites was from an Arizona couple whose car was swept down by the Mother Cline slide in the spring of 1988. And as an informal student of place names, I was fascinated that the slides had names, many of them attached to local characters or events.
One chapter focuses on mail-truck drivers, whose dedication is astonishing; the Postal Service should start using them in commercials. The authors go back to the 19th century for accounts and photos — the early freighters often tunneled through slides, and others taught pack burros to walk on snowshoes.
The photos, historic and modern, seem worthy of a book in themselves, and there are stories behind the photos — or even non-photos:
So Pete’s up there about to shoot the Brooklyns. We’re standing there by the mine road where they park the cat. This guy pulls up in a station wagon and asks if he can take some pictures. “Sure,” we tell him. Well, Pete’s up there by Chattanooga getting ready to fire away. This guy has set a tripod and he’s got about three cameras hanging from his neck. He looks ready.
‘Bout the third shot Pete fires, things start happening. I mean happening. Every slide from the Eagle down through the Brooklyns takes off running. I think later we counted 16 avalanches that ran. Pretty incredible.
Well, things start settling down and we begin to hear this camera guy swearing away. He picks up his tripod, camera and all, and throws it — I mean, hard — into the back of the station wagon. Then he throws his other cameras in one by one. “Must’ve got some great shots,” we said. “I never snapped a damn picture,” he replied. The swearing started up again. You know? I don’t think he ever did say good-bye.
In some ways, Living (and Dying) in Avalanche Country is an extremely local book about coping with winter in the core of the San Juans, and you won’t find much lore from elsewhere. But in recounting those life-and-death struggles, Marshall and Roberts are telling stories that resonate throughout the Rocky Mountains, wherever avalanches might strike.
— Ed Quillen
Still occasionally find a copy on eBay or a local garage sale for cheap. Just heard from a friend that the book is still available at Fetch’s in Silverton.
Peter Marshall was killed in a January 2019 avalanche while taking a class near Red Mountain Pass. His family is suing Backcountry Access, which made his avalanche air bag pack.
Dec 21, 2021
The family of Peter Marshall, who was killed in an avalanche near Red Mountain Pass as he participated in an avalanche safety class with the Silverton Avalanche School, has dropped its lawsuit against the venerable school.
But the family of the 40-year-old Longmont skier is suing K2 Sports and its company Backcountry Access, which makes the air bag backpack that was not deployed when rescuers found Marshall buried in more than 8 feet of avalanche debris.
“Peter Marshall attempted to trigger his Float 32 avalanche air bag system but it did not fully deploy or inflate,” reads the product liability complaintfiled in Boulder District Court. The lawsuit does not describe how the family determined Marshall attempted to deploy the air bag but failed.
This story first appeared in The Outsider, the premium outdoor newsletter by Jason Blevins. Become a Newsletters+ Member to get The Outsider at coloradosun.com/join. (Current members, click here to learn how to upgrade)
K2 Sports, which is owned by private equity firm Kohlberg & Company, denied the allegations in a response to the complaint filed this month, arguing the air bag was not defective and the losses suffered by the Marshall family were the result of “voluntary acts and not caused by any act or omission” by the pack manufacturer. The lawyers for K2 Sports cited 16 facts they believe eliminate the company’s liability in their request that the judge dismiss the case.
Marshall was participating in an advanced avalanche safety class in Upper Senator Beck Basin near Red Mountain Pass on Jan. 5, 2019, when he was swept down a slope in an avalanche that caught five other skiers. Four skiers were not buried. Another was buried but was able to extricate himself. When the skiers freed Marshall from the debris, he was not breathing. His Backcountry Access Float 32 pack, which has a trigger that must be yanked to inflate an air bag that can buoy a skier to the top of moving snow, was not inflated.
Colorado Avalanche Information Center investigators said in their report that the air bag backpack “was functioning properly,” with “the trigger out of the pack strap, but the bag was not deployed.”
Two years after the accident, Marshall’s wife and young daughter sued San Juan Search and Rescue, the Silverton Avalanche School and the school’s guide, Zachary Lovell. (The school is part of the county’s search and rescue operation.) The 68-page wrongful death lawsuit also claimed Backcountry Access made a defective air bag. The lawsuit argued the school, guide and pack-maker “created substantial and unreasonable risks of serious injury and death to participants” in the safety class. Attorneys for the Marshall family have not returned calls or responded to emails. Representatives from the county and school declined to comment.
Marshall’s death was the first avalanche fatality of the 2019-20 season and the first ever for the Silverton Avalanche School, one of the nation’s oldest avalanche education operations. Marshall was participating in the school’s Level 2 American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education class for backcountry skiers seeking advanced skills for traveling in avalanche terrain.
The Colorado Avalanche Information Center report pointed to several mistakes during the class, including a group of skiers gathered on a slope steep enough to slide, those skiers misjudging the steepness of that slope and a failure to recognize avalanche hazards on nearby slopes.
The guide triggered the first avalanche, which swept every skier down the slope, according to the CAIC report. A second slide buried Marshall under several feet of snow.
Last month the Marshall family dropped its claims against the county, school and guide. The family had argued that the school and guide had duped Marshall into signing up for the class by “falsely presenting” that school staff “possessed deep operational experience in avalanche terrain.” The family also claimed the school and guide displayed “gross negligence,” which would exempt protection provided in liability waivers signed by Marshall before the class.
The complaint against Backcountry Access and K2 Sports notes that the avalanche safety equipment company recalled “substantially similar” Float packs due to a problem that could lead to a failure in the pack’s ability to inflate. The U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission reported the recall of 8,200 Float 18 packs on Nov. 26, 2013, with a warning that the trigger assembly can fail “resulting in the air bag not deploying, posing a risk of death and injury in the event of an avalanche.”
The complaint by the Marshall family argues Backcountry Access “should have known insufficient changes were made to the design of avalanche air bags manufactured after the recall to prevent such failures.”
The lawsuit argues Backcountry Access should have been aware of “safer alternative designs,” such as a remote or automatic triggering or inflation system.
Another skier in Marshall’s group was wearing an avalanche air bag and attempted to deploy the bag when he was swept off his feet in the slide. It did not inflate.
“Later, he determined that he assembled the trigger mechanism incorrectly,” reads the CAIC report, which did not identify the brand of air bag used by that skier.
Avalanche air bags are commonly accepted as one of the best technologies in avalanche safety since the transceiver, which transmits a signal to other transceivers, helping to locate a buried skier. But it’s not a perfect defender. Wearing an avalanche air bag can save a little more than half of skiers who would have otherwise been killed in an avalanche, according toa 2012 review of five different studies of air bag effectiveness.
Deployment is the critical issue though. A 2014 study of avalanches involving skiers with air bags showed 60% of avalanche accidents involving skiers with un-inflated air bags were because the skier never pulled the trigger. That study also showed 12% of so-called non-inflation incidents were due to user error, including assembling the trigger mechanism incorrectly.
Udall underestimates himself. He belongs in the problem employee gallery with the rest of us… Wally Berg
You’re right Wally, Udall deserves a place on the “Wall of Shame” with the rest of the reprobates. rŌbert
bienvenido de nuevo Mark, el El Grupo Empleados !
An 86-year-old grandpa writes a letter to his grandchildren about life, love, sex, money and the hazards of staying alive. This little volume for young adults and grandparents is an introduction to life’s surprises, victories, and pitfalls; the lessons about the wins and losses that are not taught in school.
Ideas and imagination are made real by forty-four paintings from the quirky mind of John Mansfield whose art hangs in collections worldwide, including the Smithsonian.
A grandparent’s gift, this is a keepsake without an end-date. Discussion points about creativity, finance, being cool, business ventures and beliefs help young adults happily avoid predictable disasters and enjoy the trip of life well-lived.
Jerry has several other published books including Sleeping Big which is a favorite of mine. rŌbert
In the 1970s, Telluride Colorado is an extreme place populated by extreme people made crazier by each other, the last bastion of the old West where living is fun, sex is easy and death is nigh. A remote village with a backdrop of snowy peaks is the stage. It’s inhabited by escapees from reality, the remoteness making for easy sex, cheap politicians, hippies, coke dealers and a sprinkling of criminals hiding out in the mountains where the law is “flexible”. The Bubba Ram, a phony guru, barely survives lost gambles, wasted love and life and death clashes with civilization by rebels who pursue money and sex and watch the town metamorphose into a free-thinking haven for the super rich.
sleeping with radio
romantic forecast night