Report issued for February avalanche that claimed Antonito resident
DENVER — The Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) issued its final report on the Feb. 25 avalanche near the Red Lakes Trailhead at La Manga Pass that claimed the life of Antonito resident Kevin Gray.
According to the report, prior to the avalanche from Feb. 20 to 23, a potent winter storm moved through the area and deposited fresh snow.
On Feb. 25, Gray met five friends for a day of snowmobiling at the Red Lakes Trailhead. All were experienced snowmobilers and were familiar with the area. All had two-way radios, and three wore avalanche transceivers; Gray did not.
The group did not discuss avalanche conditions and was unaware of the forecast for the area by the avalanche center, which rated the avalanche danger between Moderate (Level 2 of 5) and Considerable (Level 3 of 5).
The group was riding at an elevation of about 10,800 feet through a meadow when one of the riders triggered the avalanche, another rider witnessed Gray get separated from his snowmobile and disappear into the moving avalanche debris.
Knowing that Gray was not wearing a transceiver, the group searched the avalanche debris area where he was last seen for visual clues and began probing the area. One of the riders triggered the SOS on his locator beacon. There is no cell service in the area.
Word of the avalanche and of Gray, spread quickly by radio, and soon another group of riders arrived and assisted in the search for him. By late afternoon, approximately 30 people were on the scene, including teams from Alamosa Search and Rescue (ASAR), U.S. Forest Service (USFS), and the Conejos County Sheriff's Department. They continued to search for Gray until nightfall.
The search resumed at 7:30 a.m. on Feb. 26. A large group of community volunteers, ASAR, Conejos County Sheriff's Department, USFS, and Colorado Avalanche Information Center forecasters, continued searching the avalanche debris with probes working in lines. Wolf Creek Ski Area sent two avalanche rescue dog teams. Strong winds and snowfall began in the afternoon. The search was suspended around 1:30 p.m. as weather conditions deteriorated.
The search resumed on Feb. 27, and at approximately 10:30 a.m., searchers located Gray, who was deceased, buried in two to three feet of snow.
The incident report from CAIC noted the "community support for this search effort was truly impressive...and over a hundred members of the community joined the search. People traveled several hours to add to the effort." The report concluded with, "The outpouring of support and the number of volunteers over the three-day search is a reflection of Rider 1's [Gray's] ties to the local community and his involvement in the snowmobile community."
Avalanche conditions in Colorado persist. On March 17, a backcountry skier was killed by an avalanche in upper Rapid Creek near Marble. On March 19, another skier was killed by an avalanche in the Maroon Bowl near the Aspen Highlands ski area.
The CAIC has many avalanche safety messages on its website at www. Avalanche.state.co.us. Highlights include: Read the local avalanche forecast and plan to avoid hazardous areas. Recognize unstable snow and stay clear of it. Purchase avalanche safety equipment and practice with it. This gear can assist and expedite recovery efforts. The chance of a live recovery drops precipitously after someone is buried for more than 30 minutes.
To support outdoor search and rescue operations in Colorado, a five-year Colorado Outdoor Recreation Search and Rescue (CORSAR) card can be purchased for $12 that helps fund rescue missions. The card is available through the Colorado Department of Local Affairs website at www: dola.colorado.gov.