Maroon Bowl Avalanche Kills One; Two Rescued

Maroon Bowl Avalanche Kills One; Two Rescued

An avalanche Sunday afternoon in Maroon Bowl off the west side of Highland Peak killed a skier, according to a Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office press release.

At 1:27 p.m., Pitkin County Regional Emergency Dispatch Center received a call from the Aspen Highlands Ski Patrol reporting a large out-of-bounds avalanche in Maroon Bowl with three skiers likely caught. Shortly after this call, Highlands Ski Patrol reported that only one skier was buried by the avalanche, according to the press release.

Due to remaining avalanche danger, Ski Patrol was not able to send patrol to the three skiers and Mountain Rescue Aspen was notified. By 2:15, rescuers were on Maroon Creek Road, preparing to enter the field.

Remaining avalanche danger prevented rescuers from reaching the skiers, so it was decided to use air rescue resources to access the skiers. At this same time, one of the skiers was in contact with dispatch and confirmed they were uninjured. The skier was able to uncover the buried skier and begin CPR.

At 2:25 p.m., Ski Patrol was in contact with the third skier and was working on getting the skier to hike up the mountainside so they could get a rope to the skier and pull that individual uphill and into ski area. According to the release, this skier was rescued by Highlands Ski Patrol.

Meanwhile, helicopter resources from Care Flight of the Rockies, Flight for Life and the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control were called to assist in the rescue of the other two skiers. Due to the excessive slope angles on the mountainside, Care Flight and Flight for Life were not able to land in the vicinity of the skiers.

At 4:15 p.m., dispatch confirmed the uninjured skier stopped CPR on the previously buried skier. At 4:36, the DFPC helicopter was able to insert to MRA rescuers at their location. The rescuers confirmed the previously buried skier was deceased. At 4:45 p.m., the helicopter retrieved the uninjured and deceased skier and flew them to Aspen/Pitkin County Airport.

The Mountain Rescue team was able to ski safely down to Maroon Creek Road, all rescue personnel were safely out of the field by 5:30, the release states.

“Each of the three skiers involved in this avalanche had avalanche safety training and were carrying and using avalanche safety equipment. The identity of the deceased skier is being withheld pending necessary notifications and the completion of the coroner’s investigation,” the press release states.

Preliminary reports from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center state the avalanche broke about 200 feet wide and ran about 2,000 vertical feet and was triggered at about 1 p.m..

On the CAIC danger scale, Aspen and the surrounding area were at a 2, or moderate risk for above, near and below the treeline.

“The most dangerous slopes face northeast, east and southeast. This is where recent storm snow sits on buried weak layers and crusts. The only way to deal with this avalanche problem is to avoid steep easterly-facing slopes,” the avalanche forecasts states.

It also states that risks remain on north and west facing slopes due to a weak layer buried, even though there has been less avalanche activity on these aspects. There may be no indication of unstable snow before triggering an avalanche. Maroon Bowl is a steep northwest-facing slope in the near treeline elevation band.

CAIC staff will visit the accident site on Monday and said they will publish a final report in the next week. 

According to CAIC avalanche statistics, the last fatal avalanche in Aspen was in 2018. The avalanche caught two side country riders in Maroon Bowl and killed one.

From 1984 to 2018, there have been 11 avalanche fatalities at or in the surrounding country of Aspen Highlands, according to the CAIC database.

By: Audrey Ryan I The Aspen Times I March 2023

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