Five snowboarders killed in Colo. backcountry avalanche
GEORGETOWN, Colo. -- Authorities say five snowboarders were killed in a backcountry avalanche on Colorado's Loveland Pass on Saturday.
Clear Creek County Sheriff Don Krueger said in a statement that six snowboarders were caught in the slide Saturday afternoon. The condition of the lone survivor was not released. Krueger said multiple search and rescue crews located the bodies Saturday.
According to the Colorado Avalanche and Information Center (CAIC), it was the second deadliest slide in Colorado since 1950. In 1962, seven residents were killed by an avalanche in Twin Lakes, Colo., and in 1987, four skiers were killed in Tenmile Range.
A CAIC incident report released late Saturday says the avalanche was in the Sheep Creek area near Loveland Pass, and that the group may have triggered the avalanche -- which measured 4 feet deep and 500 feet across -- from below the starting zone.
"The avalanche released into old snow layers," the report states.
Fifty-five miles west of Denver, the pass, at 11,990 feet, is popular among backcountry skiers and snowboarders from the Denver, Boulder and Colorado Springs areas. The pass is also heavily traveled by visitors to nearby Arapahoe Basin and Keystone ski resorts. Hitchhikers at the bottom of the pass, seeking a ride back up, are a common sight for commuters.
It was the second fatal avalanche incident in Colorado within a week. A snowboarder was killed on Vail Pass on Thursday. Saturday's incident brings the total avalanche fatalities in the U.S. for this winter to 24.
"Our last series of storms made them more active again," CAIC forecaster Spencer Logan told The Denver Post. "Over the last week and a half, that area got over 18 inches of snow. If you melted that, it would be 2 inches of water, so that is a heavy load."
On Saturday, the Colorado Department of Transportation closed U.S. 6, which crosses the Continental Divide near the scene of the avalanche, to facilitate the search.
Lisa Clarke Devore, who was headed back to Denver from the resort, told The Associated Press she saw a fire truck and ambulance on the pass, as well as two search dogs headed into the area of the slide. She says she saw several ambulances, including one towing snowmobiles, headed toward the pass.
"I think they were trying to do a lot of things right," said Tim Brown, another CAIC forecaster, to the Denver newspaper. "These weren't guys who were reckless and didn't care. They all had gear, and I think they cared about making good decisions. That is an important message right now. You can do a lot of things right but still be caught in a dangerous situation."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.