Full Report Released on Longmont Man Killed in Ouray County Avalanche
The avalanche in Ouray County that killed a Longmont man on Jan. 5 was determined to be accidentally triggered, and a full report from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center provides some answers as to what went wrong that day.
Peter Marshall, 40, was one of six backcountry skiers taking an avalanche safety course led by the Silverton Avalanche School. The group accidentally triggered an avalanche while coming down Red Mountain Pass in Senator Beck Basin, and Marshall was buried and killed.
Marshall moved to Colorado in 1998 to study engineering, according to an online obituary, and “found a lifestyle he loved.” He was a father, husband and brother, and was very passionate about skiing.
According to a report published this week by the center, this accident was “more complex” because it involved a large group of people executing a very detailed trip. One of the six skiers was an instructor with six years of experience in the area, and the group spent the night before the trip creating a specific plan that included a schedule, waypoints and locations where they knew decisions would have to be made.
When the group began descending to head back to the lodge, they chose to descend on the east side of a cirque, which is an amphitheater-like valley, the report says. They traveled down a bench in short succession.
The report says the skiers moved down the slope shortly after one another or at the same time so they wouldn’t lose view of each other. At one point, one of the skiers “saw a crack shoot across the slope and yelled “Avalanche!” according to the report.
The avalanche caught all six skiers, and was quickly followed by a second. The instructor lost his skis and was carried to the bottom of the slope, but didn’t get hit by the second avalanche. Marshall was carried to the bottom as well, but was overrun by the second avalanche and buried.
The other skiers were carried about 20 feet downhill, according to the report. They all began a search for Marshall and eventually got him out of the snow, a little less than an hour after the avalanche. He was buried facedown, and efforts to revive him were unsuccessful.
A few aspects of the trip could have contributed to the end result. First, the report says that it is basic avalanche safety to travel one-by-one through areas prone to avalanches. If the skiers had gone down the bench one at a time, they may not have all been caught by the avalanche.
The skiers could have descended the slope the same way they ascended, rather than using the cirque, the report says. This terrain had “significant overhead hazard and threat from the connected terrain.” It was the first day that avalanche danger had dropped below the classification of “considerable” since Dec. 26.
The group also was traveling below southeast and east facing terrain, after the avalanche forecast at the time highlighted those aspects as most likely to experience “persistent slab” avalanches.
They also said they tried to avoid traveling on slopes with an angle greater than 30 degrees. However, investigators measured angles ranging from 32 to 34 degrees on the slope where the avalanche occurred. While only a few degrees, the report says “it can be significant when dealing with a Persistent Slab avalanche problem.”
Marshall’s avalanche airbag also was not deployed. Another skier pulled the trigger on his airbag, but it didn’t deploy because he misassembled it. The report says that 60 percent of non-inflations are due to people not pulling the trigger, and 12 percent are due to user error.
Madeline St. Amour: 303-684-5212, firstname.lastname@example.org