Group of 12 narrowly misses series of avalanches on hut trip

Janet UrquhartAspen CorrespondentGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

ASPEN – Charlie Noone enjoyed the best skiing of his life last weekend. And, he lived to tell about it.The Durango resident and Glenwood Springs native was among a group of 12 skiers and snowboarders descending from the Tagert and Green Wilson huts Sunday when multiple, large avalanches thundered across their route from Pearl Basin back into the Castle Creek Valley, south of Aspen.The group of a dozen had split into three smaller parties – six in front, four in the second group, and Noone and a companion bringing up the rear. All three groups managed to escape what Noone said would be certain death had any of them been caught in any of several large slides.”It was just a matter of timing that saved us,” he said. “It was just luck.”The group of friends, most of whom grew up in Glenwood, headed up to the huts on Thursday, with a winter storm in the forecast.The two huts, part of the Braun system, are situated just below timberline in Pearl Basin, in the Elk Mountains between Crested Butte and Aspen.With the avalanche danger mounting, the group assessed the snowpack by digging pits and stuck to skiing in the glades, Noone said. Still, on Sunday morning, a slide came down over the route they’d skinned repeatedly during their weekend of powder turns, he said.”It was stellar in the trees where we were skiing,” he said. “It was the best skiing of my life.”The first group to depart Sunday crossed two avalanche paths that had already slid, the second group crossed four paths, and Noone and his partner crossed five. All of the slides came down in about an hour, Noone estimated.All of the avalanches were between the turnoff to Montezuma Basin and the base of Pearl Pass Road at the upper end of the Castle Creek Valley. One huge slide took out the foot bridge that crosses the creek a short distance up Pearl Pass Road from the parking area, he said.”It was huge. It looked like a nuclear bomb had gone off. All the trees were flat,” he said. “It was really hard to find the trail out.”Everyone in the group knew their friends were safe, though, thanks to radio contact among the parties.By the time everyone regrouped at the Pine Creek Cookhouse, there was talk of the next hut trip, Noone said.”We were talking about our next trip as soon as we got out.”

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