On Saturday, the Colorado snowboarding community was still reeling from the avalanche death of Mark McCarron (announced by authorities along with a controversial marijuana reference) when another tragedy struck -- this one with an even greater loss of life. Five people died near Loveland in what is the deadliest Colorado avalanche in more than a half-century. Among the dead was Joe Timlin, organizer of that day's Rocky Mountain High Backcountry Gathering, and Rick Gaukel, one of the state's top snowboarding guides. Photos and details below.
The indispensable Colorado Avalanche Information Center provides the basics about the incident, which took place in the Sheep Creek area near Loveland Pass -- approximate elevation, 12,000 feet. Here's a look at the area, complete with the info center's caption:
What the CAIC terms an "unintentional release" of a slide within old snow overtook a backcountry touring party of six on splitboards and skis; the avalanche may have been triggered "from below the start zone, low in the avalanche pass," the report maintains.
The avalanche's crown face is estimated at four feet in depth and 500 feet wide.
Of the six members of the party, only one made it out alive. The victims have been identified as Timlin, who lived in Gypsum; Gaukel, from Estes Park; Boulder's Ryan Novack; Crested Butte's Ian Lamphere; and Lakewood's Christopher Peters. All of them were in their thirties.
Timlin was the man behind the Rocky Mountain High Backcountry gathering, slated for April 19 and 20. Here's a graphic from its Facebook events page.
The event was a fundraiser for the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.
As noted by Westword contributor Colin Bane, writing for ESPN, Timlin worked as a sales manager for assorted snowboard brands in the Rocky Mountain region. Snowboard magazine elaborated with this photo....
...and this post:
This is a photo that was recently published in our last issue of our dear friend Joe Timlin who died in an avalanche at Loveland Pass yesterday. Joe was a local at @vailmtn at the rep for @jonessnowboards @yes_snowboards @nowbindings. He was an amazing person and a very good friend who will be terribly missed. Our hearts go out to Joe's family and the families of the 4 others that did not make it in yesterday's avalanche. Sad time for Colorado. Please be extra careful in the backcountry!
Understandably, this news shook Timlin's many friends. Here's an excerpt from a post by one of them:
I cried, and mourned a friend and good person and his compatriots. LOVE to all who we lost, those who were with them who had to work thru this, and the families who lost good people. Shit this is horrible, and Joe I respect the hell out of what you were building here. You made the Colorado snowboarding community a much more stoked place from the track you were putting down. You will be missed and honored by all of us whenever we gather and whenever we are out there alone. Be good people. Love.
A reply to this message added some additional perspective. It reads:
at one point or another, all of us have asked ourselves how would we want to die if we had the choice. for those of us who ride, i bet the majority of us share the same answer.
perhaps we can find some solace in the fact that these guys were riding deep snow; doing exactly what they wanted to be doing.
all my love to those that miss, and to those that will be missed.
Continue for more about the victims of the Loveland avalanche, including photos. As for Gaukel, Bane notes in his ESPN piece that he was a Wilderness First Responder and an instructor certified by the American Mountain Guides Association. He was "one of the most educated snowboard backcountry guides in the world. Period," longtime snowboarder Kurt Olesek told Bane. "Only a couple of other people have tested through these different levels to get where he was at."
Here's a photo from Gaukel's Facebook page:
Lamphere, for his part, he was one of the principals of Gecko Climbing Skins and a whole lot more, as seen in this GCS bio:
Ian learned how to ski when he was three, or so he thinks, as no one can seem to remember. His first job was at a ski resort and he was a ski instructor and race coach who ski bummed through college before enjoying a semi-elite pro amateur stint as talent on Dan Egan's Wild World of Winter, RSN, Backcountry TV Skiing Magazine among others. During this time he played drums as a founding member of the semi-successful regional touring rock band Named By Strangers that you may remember from a TGR tour stop near you. He went on to co-found a full suite video production company and from there, with Adam DesLauriers he co-created Backcountry TV, the nationally syndicated half hour action sports documentary series that first aired in 2004 on NESN (the New England Sports Network - home of New England champions the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics), and since has aired to hundreds of millions of viewers worldwide.
Later he became a partner at Stockli Ski USA and to establish Gecko Skins NA, Inc. He is also an associate producer of Matt Herriger's film Winter's Wind, and is the co-founder of the prestigious Stowe Mountain Film Festival, and four RSN (now Outdoor Television) stations in three states. In 2009, he was anointed volunteer of the year for the Vermont Ski Museum. An avid backcountry skier, he trained as a heli-ski guide with Alaska Heliskiing in Haines, and is a constant proponent of avalanche awareness and backcountry safety.
Clearly, this trio knew their way around the backcountry in a way that few skiers or snowboarders on the planet do, and the event in which they were participating was much anticipated, as alluded to in this April 17 post on the Gecko Facebook page.
Come join us at the inaugural Rocky Mountain High Backcountry Gathering at Loveland ((and the greater environs) this weekend! It has been DUMPING in CO for the past week and will be epic!!
So, too, is the grief being felt by the friends, family and loved ones of Timlin, Gaukel, Lamphere, Peters and Novack. Our most sincere condolences.
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Continue for more from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center about the slide, including photos. CAIC report, followed by photos with information center captions:
Avalanche Details Location: Sheep Creek, near Loveland Pass State: Colorado Date: 2013/04/20 Time: Unknown Summary Description: 6 snowboarders caught and buried, 5 killed Primary Activity: Backcountry Tourer Primary Travel Mode: Snowboard Number Caught: 0 Fully Buried: 6 Injured: 0 Killed: 5 Avalanche Type: HS Trigger: AR - Snowboarder Trigger (subcode): u - An unintentional release Size - Relative to Path: R3 Size - Destructive Force: D2.5 Sliding Surface: O - Within Old Snow Site Slope Aspect: N Site Elevation: 12000 ft Slope Angle: -- Slope Characteristic: -- Accident Summary
A backcountry touring party of six, on splitboards and skis, were caught in an avalanche in the Sheep Creek area near Loveland Pass. Five of the riders were killed. The group may have triggered the avalanche from below the start zone, low in the avalanche path. The avalanche released into old snow layers and the ground. Approximate dimensions of the crown face of the avalanche are 4 feet deep and 500 feet wide.
More from our News archive: "Mark McCarron ID'd as victim in Vail avalanche, anger over marijuana mention."