Photos: Skier killed after double avalanche near Keystone

For the third consecutive day, we have sad news to report about the death of a skier in the Colorado high country -- and the second in the vicinity of the Keystone ski area. But while the previous tragedy, involving a 46-year-old man who died after smashing into a tree over the weekend, will go down as an official ski-resort death (like that of publicity-shy St. Louis oil executive Gary R. Parker, who passed away after a crash at Beaver Creek), the latest fatality won't, since it took place following twin avalanches beyond Keystone's boundaries. Details and photos below.

At around noon on February 10, according to the Summit County Sheriff's Office, news surfaced about an avalanche in the backcountry south of Keystone.

A report from the indispensable Colorado Avalanche Information Center specifies the location as the North Fork of Swan River. Here's the first of five CAIC photos from the scene; all captions are by the center staff.

The skier who told authorities about the avalanche was able to free himself, but he couldn't find his companion, described as a Front Range man in his forties.

Search teams with dogs were immediately dispatched to the slide zone. Participants included around forty representatives from Keystone, Arapahoe Basin, Breckenridge, the Summit County Rescue Group, Vail Mountain Rescue, the Alpine Rescue Team and the U.S. Forest Service.

But despite the size of this contingent, the man couldn't be located on day one, and no wonder: The debris field was estimated at more than a third of a mile in length and up to nine feet deep in spots.

The search was suspended at 6 p.m. on February 10 for reasons of safety and visibility. But it picked up again on the next day -- and at about 11:30 a.m. yesterday, the man's body was found. His identity has not yet been released, pending family notification.

What happened?

Continue for more about the avalanche death near Keystone, including additional photos. The CAIC report notes that the two skiers had started out in-bounds at Keystone. However, they subsequently exited the ski area.

This decision means the man's death will not be included in official ski-industry statistics. As we've pointed out, the resorts themselves have established the rules about whether skiing deaths are counted toward the official total -- and this standard excludes those that are outside boundaries where the public is allowed to ski, even if they're otherwise on the ski area's property.

After the skiers descended into the North Fork of Swan River, the CAIC report goes on, avalanches "started in two locations and merged in a gully," with the fatal slide taking place near the treeline along the terrain's southeasterly aspect.

It was big. The center estimates its combined width at between 100 and 200 feet, with the avalanche breaking four feet to the ground and funneling into the gully for about 2,000 vertical feet.

The center calls the two skiers "sidecountry riders," defined as those who "exit ski areas to access backcountry terrain outside of operating ski area boundaries." But doing so at present is extremely risky. The CAIC currently rates the avalanche risk in the area as high.

Our condolences to the skier's friends, family and loved ones.

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

More from our News archive circa February 10: "Videos: Keystone death marks fourth official ski-resort casualty of season."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts