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A "euphoric" day turned to tragedy when a 20-year-old backcountry snowboarder was buried and killed in a sizable slab avalanche on the south and east side of Berthoud Pass in Colorado. The victim and a skier friend triggered the avalanche as they skied down a steep backcountry area above treeline known as the Russell Face.
The two men used snowshoes to hike westward from the summit of Berthoud Pass toward the Continental Divide. The pair were 3-4 turns down the slope when it fractured. The victim was swept down and buried under about two feet of snow. His partner had his skis knocked off his feet which likely allowed him to stay on the surface. When the avalanche stopped he briefly searched for his buried friend, but since they carried no avalanche rescue gear. He started hiking out to the highway where he flagged down a motorist.
The Berthoud Pass Ski Patrol responded with support from the Alpine Rescue Team and the Loveland Ski Areas ski patrol. The victim was quickly found and CPR was started, but the almost 2 hour burial was too long.
The avalanche was a combination of both hard- slab and sloft- slab snow. It fractured about 3-4 feet deep by about 600 feet across and fell 600 vertical feet. The avalanche occurred on a southeast aspect at an elevation of about 12,200 feet. The slope was 40 degrees in steepness. Snow conditions were very unstable. Rescuers reported hard slab conditions that produced hollow, drum-like sounds; they also triggered a sizable avalanche on an adjacent slope that measured only 31 degrees in steepness.
The backcountry avalanche danger was rated an overall with areas of danger.
Slide claims boarder
By Andrew Simons, The Denver Post
March 1 - An avalanche near Berthoud Pass killed a 25-year-old man who was snowboarding with a friend Sunday afternoon.
The slide occurred about a quarter mile from U.S. 40, the Clear Creek County sheriff's office said.
The Clear Creek County search-and-rescue team responded to the scene at approximately 3 p.m. on a call from the ski patrol at the Berthoud Ski Area. The Grand County search-and-rescue team and the Loveland Ski Patrol also helped in the effort, along with an avalanche rescue dog.
About an hour later, the Clear Creek team found the skier and attempted to resuscitate him, but failed.
Neither the victim nor his friend were identified.
Nick Logan of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center said conditions near Berthoud Pass were conducive for avalanches. As of Sunday, between 35-40 avalanches had been reported statewide during the preceding 48 hours, he said.
A large storm system that moved across the state last week dumped as much as a foot of snow in some areas.
"We've had a lot of wind blowing, drifting snow and recent avalanche activity in the last several days," Logan said. "My hazard rating for the backcountry has been 'considerable' with areas of high danger." Logan said there still is a high avalanche danger for most of the high country. Only the San Juan Mountains and the Wolf Creek Pass were under a "moderate" avalanche danger advisory.
Sunday's victim becomes the third avalanche death this year.
Kevin Reeves, 25, died Jan. 22, after he and a friend, Peter McGinty, 29, triggered a snowslide southwest of Telluride. In December, an avalanche near Guanella Pass in the central mountains near Georgetown killed a snowshoer.