UPDATE (Monday, 4/22 @ 9:56am): The Clear Creek Sheriff's Office has identified those killed as Christopher Peters, 32, of Lakewood; Joseph Timlin, 32, of Gypsum; Ryan Novack, 33, of Boulder; Ian Lanphere, 36, of Crested Butte; and Rick Gaukel, 33, of Estes Park. In a strange twist of fate, the men were participating in the Rocky Mountain High Backcountry Gathering, an event aimed at promoting backcountry safety and raising money for the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. The sixth member of the group, who was partially buried but survived was identified as Jerome Boulay.
The five who died were all skiing and snowboarding industry veterans. Timlin worked as the Rocky Mountain sales manager for various snowboard brands, including Jones, NOW, Karakoram, Sandbox and Ifound. Lanphere (a skier) was the co-founder of both Backcountry TV and the Stowe Mountain Film Festival, and was trained as a heli-ski guide with Alaska Heliskiing. He was also co-owner of Gecko Climbing Skins. Gaukel was an American Mountain Guides Association-certified instructor and Wilderness First Responder. The survivor, Boulay, is sales manager for Venture Snowboards.
Five members of a backcountry snowboarding group died Saturday in what is being called Colorado's deadliest avalanche in more than 50 years. The group was riding a backcountry bowl in Colorado's White River National Forest near Loveland Pass, when they triggered an avalanche 200 meters wide and 350 long around 1pm. Six people were buried, but one managed to dig himself out of the snow and flag down help from Colorado Dept. of Transportation workers.
Search teams have since recovered the five bodies, but no identities are being released until authorities have time to notify the victims' families.
The Clear Creek County Sheriff's Office said that all of the snowboarders were properly equipped for backcountry travel, with avalanche beacons, probes and shovels.
"I feel really bad for these guys," Tim Brown, a Summit County avalanche forecaster with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, told The Denver Post. "I think they were trying to do a lot of things right. 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."
Dale Atkins, president of the American Avalanche Association and a longtime member of the Alpine Rescue Team, stressed how unpredictable and dangerous backcountry snow conditions have been this spring, thanks to recent storms that have dropped heavy, wet snow and high winds in the high country. This comes at a time when warm conditions tend to stabilize snowpacks, making it safer for backcountry travel.
Atkins was part of the early rescue team Saturday near Loveland, and said the bowl that released the avalanche was not a steep or extreme slope. "This would be a slope that looks like a lot of fun for good riders," he told The Denver Post. "But the conditions this spring are unusual, and unusual conditions result in unusual avalanches. You really need to dial it back this spring."
Yesterday's tragic accident was Colorado's deadliest avalanche since 1962, when seven people were killed by a slide that buried residences at Twin Lakes near Independence Pass. It also brings the state's avalanche death toll to 11 for the 2012-13 season, accounting for nearly half of the nation's 24.