First avalanche death of the year hits Colorado

Though there have been some close calls this season, including the ridiculously unprepared guy who got partially buried in a slide off Loveland Pass last month and got his 15 minutes as a result, no one had actually died in a slide in Colorado this season.

Until yesterday.

Yesterday, the Vail Ski Patrol recovered the body of Jasper "Jaz" McGrath, in an area near the Miller Cliffs outside the ski area boundary. The area is accessed via a backcountry gate at Blue Sky Basin. McGrath, a snowboarder from Minnesota, had been missing since January 6, and his body was spotted by two skiers.

Vail Resorts closed two lifts and sent the ski patrol out to help recover the body. McGrath had worked last season at Vail as a ski instructor. Early reports indicate McGrath died of hypoxia. According to data from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, the slope aspect faced north and the angle was in that prime avalanche zone of 34 degrees.

While the snowpack this season in Colorado is not deep, it does not negate the avalanche danger. According to the CAIC, at around the same time McGrath was killed, there was a snowmobile rider caught in a slide at Rabbit Ears Pass and partially buried, and another skier who was caught in a slide at the Mushroom Bowl near Vail and dug out. Just five days before McGrath disappeared, Blue Sky Basin was closed after a member of the Vail ski patrol was caught in a slide in-bounds.

If you are venturing into the Colorado backcountry, consider taking an avalanche awareness class. Understand how to assess the snowpack, carry a beacon, shovel, and probe, and go with a friend.

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Candace Horgan