Avalanche kills one north of Rifle Gap
Post Independent Staff
Garfield County Search and Rescue responded to a report of an avalanche in the Little Box Canyon area north of Rifle Friday afternoon where they found the body of a 45-year-old male who had been snowmobiling in the area.
Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario said the county search and rescue team found
the man buried in the snow two miles past Little Box Canyon north of Rifle Falls about
3 p.m. Friday. The victim’s name was not immediately released.
It was believed he was buried under the snow for quite a while before being discovered, according to Vallario.
The Rifle Fire Protection District received the initial call about a person being stuck in the snow at 12:12 p.m., said Tanny McGinnis, a spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office.
Immediately after responding to the scene, Garfield County sheriff’s deputies paged the county’s search and rescue team around 12:30 p.m.
Lt. Rob Jones with the Rifle Fire Department said emergency personnel left the avalanche scene at 3:30 p.m.
There have not been any avalanches or snowmobile deaths in that area in recent memory, said Kyle Costanzo, a member of the Rifle Snowmobile Club.
“Although (a snowmobiler) was killed a few years back in the Four Mile area,” he added.
Costanzo said late Friday afternoon that he did not know if the victim in Friday’s accident was a member of the Rifle Snowmobile Club.
Four people in Colorado have died in avalanches this winter before this incident,
said Spencer Logan of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.
On average, six die from avalanches each year in the state, Logan said. The man’s
death comes after two skiers were killed by avalanches in separate incidents in the
East Vail Chutes this winter. They were the first fatalities in the avalanche-prone
backcountry area, near the boundary of Vail Ski Resort, in more than a decade.
Snowboarder Jesse Brigham, 27, died Jan. 4 in an avalanche in the East Vail
Chutes. Eight days later and several hundred yards away, another slide killed local
skier Matthew Gustafson, 33.
A week ago, a skier was caught in a shallow avalanche in the East Vail Chutes but
managed to escape without injury. The slide carried the skier over some cliffs before
he was able to escape it, the report said.
In the wake of the avalanche Friday, Logan said “the avalanche danger was
considerable above treeline” and that below the treeline it was moderate. He
explained “considerable” means human-triggered avalanches are likely to happen
and “moderate danger” means human-triggered avalanches are possible.
Logan said he didn’t know details about the incident, but said most of the terrain in
the area north of Rifle is below treeline. He recommended staying out of noticeable
avalanche chutes and checking avalanche forecasts at http://www.avalanche.state.co.us.
But he added that even slopes as small as 50 to 100 vertical feet can produce
dangerous avalanches in certain conditions.
The Vail Daily contributed to this report.
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