Aspen avalanche victim’s body recovered
A team from Mountain Rescue Aspen (MRA) on Tuesday recovered the body of Adam Brady Dennis, who was buried in an avalanche and died while backcountry skiing the prior afternoon.
The team hit the trail at sunrise to get to the site in Maroon Creek Valley before temperatures increased and the snowpack became less stable, Pitkin County Deputy Sheriff Adam Crider said.
MRA members departed from T-Lazy-7 Ranch on multiple snowmobiles at about 6:30 a.m., Crider said. They rode the sleds about 2.5 miles up Maroon Creek Road, which is closed past the ranch for the winter, to a point about one-half mile above the Forest Service visitors’ center. They then hiked east across the valley floor and placed extension ladders across Maroon Creek to access the steep terrain where Dennis’ body remained Monday night at the top of the avalanche run-out zone.
Dennis, 38, of Aspen, was skiing with four friends in an area called Desolation Row, between Maroon Bowl and Tonar Bowl on the west side of Highlands Ridge, at about 1:15 p.m. Monday. Desolation is popular with backcountry skiers and riders because it provides about 4,000 vertical feet from the ridgetop to the valley floor. There is easy access to the backcountry area from the hike into Highland Bowl, but Desolation is outside the Aspen Highlands ski area boundary.
Brian McCall, a forecaster with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center who is writing a report about the accident, said the five skiers were traversing across Desolation. Dennis was the fifth skier; the fourth person in the group apparently triggered the slide, according to statements from the survivors.
“It sounds like the slide had been triggered just in front of [Dennis] and he got caught in it,” McCall said.
The crown of the avalanche was at about 10,900 feet or about half-way down the full length of the bowl, McCall estimated. The slide covered about 1,700 vertical feet; Dennis was carried about 1,400 vertical feet, McCall said.
“It was a soft slab avalanche so it happened in dry snow, in northwest-facing terrain,” he said.
A view of the avalanche path from Maroon Creek Road showed that it snaked down an S-shaped chute that empties into the Maroon Creek Valley floor.
The depth of avalanche debris varied but averaged about two feet, according to McCall. He said he couldn’t investigate snow conditions at the crown because of the threat of additional slides.
Dennis’ colleagues scrambled to where he was buried and quickly located him. They all carried avalanche beacons, according to authorities. Efforts to resuscitate Dennis were unsuccessful.
The other four members of the group were unharmed. They alerted authorities at about 2:45 p.m. Monday. MRA members and deputy sheriffs assessed snowpack conditions Monday afternoon and determined it was too unstable to launch a recovery effort that day.
The MRA team recovered the body and was out of the field by 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, Crider said. An autopsy was performed and confirmed the cause of death to be asphyxia due to snow burial from the avalanche, the Pitkin County coroner’s office said.
In a statement released by the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office Tuesday, MRA urged backcountry travelers to check avalanche conditions and snow reports prior to travels. The Colorado Avalanche Information Center’s website is http://avalanche.state.co.us.
– Staff writer Janet Urquhart contributed to this report.
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