The body of 37-year-old Summit County resident James Lindenblatt was recovered from the backcountry south of Marble on Monday after he was killed in an avalanche Sunday afternoon, the Gunnison County Sheriff's Office said.
A team from Crested Butte Search and Rescue used a helicopter to retrieve Lindenblatt's body from the Raspberry Creek drainage shortly after 2 p.m., said Sheriff Rich Besecker. The team sought his permission to enlist help from DBS Helicopters from Rifle because avalanche conditions were so dangerous.
"It was evident to them that the terrain immediately underfoot was unstable," Besecker said.
Lindenblatt was the second person killed in an avalanche in Colorado this winter and the first fatality of 2013. Patsy Hileman, a ski patroller at Snowmass Ski Area, was killed while on duty Dec. 30. She was skiing alone when she was swept off a cliff by a small avalanche in permanently closed terrain with the Hanging Valley Wall area.
Lindenblatt lived in Frisco but owned a cabin in Marble, where he frequently spent weekends, according to friends.
Lindenblatt was skiing with two other men Sunday when the slide occurred.
"Two of them were able to ski out and make this report," Besecker said. He was unable to say if the other men were caught in the slide. They were not treated for injuries, he said.
All three men were carrying avalanche beacons and other safety equipment, according to the Sheriff's Office. The two survivors reported to authorities that they dug their companion out of the snow.
"It was by their speculation that he had died from trauma experienced in the violence of the avalanche," the Sheriff's Office said in a press release issued Monday.
The Sheriff's Office received the report of the slide at about 4:30 p.m. Sunday. A response team didn't immediately try to get to the site because of snowy weather, dangerous snow conditions and approaching darkness, Besecker said.
A team from Crested Butte Search and Rescue reached a staging area outside of Marble at 10:45 a.m. Monday to assess conditions and set strategy. The response team determined recovering the body by helicopter would be their safest option.
Lindenblatt was an asset manager for Summit County government with the road and bridge department. He worked closely with the open space program - keeping track of all the county's physical assets, assistant county manager Thad Noll said. "He was an incredibly talented guy."
In the summers, Lindenblatt reportedly spent much of his time mountain biking and sometimes competing in local bike races, but in the winter he was known as an avid backcountry skier. "He just lived for backcountry skiing," Noll said.
Lindenblatt owned a cabin in Marble and spent most weekends there with friends. Co-workers said his parents, who live in Texas, are on their way to Colorado and information on services will be forthcoming.
The Colorado Avalanche Information Center sent two members of its team to the site to investigate the slide and prepare a report, according to forecaster John Snook. It was possible they wouldn't be able to reach the site Monday because of dangerous conditions, he said, but they will investigate as soon as conditions allows.
Details on the location of the avalanche within Raspberry Creek drainage were limited Monday. The Colorado Avalanche Information Center website reported Monday that the slide occurred at about 11,000 feet in elevation on a west slope aspect. Besecker said Monday he was unable to confirm that information.
Besecker said the two survivors said the slide occurred in a way that left snow remaining on the slope and potentially prone to slide. The response team found similarly precarious conditions.
"It was reported that the entire basin was unstable as well as the immediate location of the body," the Sheriff's Office press release said.
The area south of Marble has become increasingly popular for backcountry skiing in recent years. Access to several areas is via Quarry Road - the route up to the historic marble quarry south of town.
Famed backcountry skier and guide book writer Lou Dawson's Backcountry Skiing Colorado website says that skiers avoid some of the more heavily-traveled areas south of Marble and head to Anthracite or Raspberry Creek "if you've got the chops." He warned that avalanche terrain is widespread in the area.
The avalanche danger in the Marble area was rated "moderate" by the avalanche information center on Sunday as well as Monday. Snook said studies show that more avalanche fatalities occur when conditions are rated as moderate than when the risk is rated high.
There is a low probability of a slide but a potential for high consequence when conditions are rated "moderate," Snook said.
Snow that fell in recent storms is slowly starting to stabilize, Snook said, but deeply buried weak layers remain a concern. They have a potential to fail, he said.
Snook's forecast on the avalanche center's website elaborated: "Human triggered avalanches are possible on slopes steeper than 35 degrees. Many below treeline aspects hold a fully faceted snowpack where small loose slides running to the ground are possible."
The current avalanche conditions can be found at https://avalanche.state.co.us/index.php.
Summit Daily News reporter Caddie Nath contributed to the reporting of this story.