Glenwood Springs man killed in avalanche near Marble on Friday
A Glenwood Springs man was killed and two others received medical treatment after being caught in an avalanche near Marble on Friday, a Gunnison County Sheriff’s Office release states.
The Gunnison County Sheriff’s Office reported on Facebook that the body of Glenwood Springs resident Joel Shute, 36, was recovered Saturday.
According to a Colorado Avalanche Information Center report, two skiers and one splitboarder were caught in an avalanche along upper Rapid Creek southwest of Marble in Gunnison County on Friday.
“The avalanche released on an east-northeast aspect above treeline,” the CAIC report states. “It broke 2-3 feet deep, 300-500 feet wide and ran 2,400 vertical feet.”
All three were caught in the avalanche, but the splitboarder was able to get out and seek help, according to the report. Once contacted by the splitboarder, medical and rescue teams worked to evacuate one skier via helicopter, but the other skier, Shute, was not found until Saturday.
Both of the injured parties were taken to the hospital, the Gunnison County Sheriff’s office said.
“Members of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center and West Elk Search and Rescue were flown via helicopter into an area of rugged terrain where the avalanche occurred,” the Gunnison County Sheriff’s Office states. “They started their search while other teams were en route to the area. The body was located around 11:30 a.m. and recovery was made via helicopter.”
Rescue teams found Shute’s body buried about four feet deep in avalanche debris, the center said.
Skier’s life remembered
Members of Shute’s family said he was aware of avalanche dangers but devoted to skiing.
“Joel is an aviator of the sky, a world class skier and snow aficionado, a chief navigator of the water on both a kayak and a raft from the mountain tops down the valleys into the creeks and rivers out into the wild blue yonder,” the family wrote in a memorial statement that was shared Sunday with the Post Independent.
His mother, Lisa Gerstner, said he spent lots of time traveling and used his pilot’s license to fly his dad, Steve Shute, and friends for work trips and recreation. He had returned to Glenwood Springs in 2017 to work with his dad in managing a group of rural gas distribution utilities.
He had just turned 36 on March 13 — sharing a birthday with World Cup Ski racer Mikaela Shiffrin of Edwards.
“He noted that she was a great skier through gates on ice, but that he preferred pow through trees,” the family memorial notes. “And, she wasn’t carrying a beloved Pomski pooch named Bombadil with one hand, while skiing in the backcountry.”
“Bomba,” for short, would often accompany Shute on his backcountry adventures, but was not with him on the Marble trip. A dog belonging to one of the others caught in the avalanche was still missing as of Sunday, according to the family.
Several members of the family and friends went to the site of the accident on Sunday.
“We walked up the same path they took, and it was just beautiful,” father Steve Shute said. “As wretched and awful as this is, it made it better to have a little of his energy where he’d been last.”
“Skiing was Joel’s life,” brother Aaron Shute told KDVR-TV. “It was his passion and what he wanted to do with his life.”
Friend Aidan Newcomer also posted on Facebook, “So many good times with you Joel Shute. You were a mentor, a friend, and a backcountry/river guru. Every day that I got to ski with you, was the best day of the season.”
A friend of the family has started a GoFundMe in Joel Shute’s memory, with all the proceeds to be donated to a local search and rescue organization and associated emergency services.
The family plans to spread Joel’s ashes in the couloir above Thomas Lakes on the flank of Mt. Sopris. A celebration of skiing with friends is also being organized at Sunlight Mountain Resort, where he first learned to ski, with a general memorial at a date to be announced.
Avalanche danger high
Recent storms have raised avalanche risks across the state.
Eighteen people have been killed across the U.S. by avalanches so far this winter, including eight in Colorado. Avalanches in the winter of 2020-2021 killed 37 people nationwide, which was the most recorded by the avalanche center in records going back to 1950.
Agencies responding to the Marble incident included the Gunnison County Sheriff’s Office, Colorado Search and Rescue Association, Mountain Rescue Aspen, West Elk Rescue Group, Flight for Life, Careflight of the Rockies, and the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.
The Associated Press and Post Independent senior reporter John Stroud contributed to this report.
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