Slide kills RHS senior
A 19-year-old Silt man was killed in a snowmobiling accident Sunday.
Grant Walker, a senior at Rifle High School, was riding with several friends and his brother on Vetter Trail northwest of Sunlight Mountain Resort outside Glenwood Springs. As he crossed a slope the snow gave way and carried him down into a deep gulch, burying him in snow, said Garfield County Sheriff Tom Dalessandri.
No one else was injured in the avalanche.
The accident occurred about 3 p.m.
The snowmobilers, a group of about six people, had taken off from the Four Mile trailhead just west of the ski area and traveled about 10 miles along the trail, Dalessandri said.
“They were playing in the area for the better part of the day,” Dalessandri said, running across a moderate and well-packed slope.
“A number of them traversed the hillside. It was quite hard-packed and they were making hardly any trail,” Dalessandri said.
Apparently Walker’s snowmobile triggered the slide, although the other snowmobiles had covered the same ground repeatedly, Dalessandri said.
The slide was described as about 100 to 200 yards wide and about 100 yards down the hillside.
“It was not all that steep, but it slid into a valley and carried the victim into a gulch. There was about 10 feet of snow in the gulch,” he said.
Walker was buried under about one foot of snow, but a part of his snowmobile was visible. He was freed in 15 to 30 minutes, Dalessandri said. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation was performed on Walker by his companions, but without success.
The accident was first reported by one of the snowmobile party by cell phone to a friend in Silt who then notified the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office. Mesa County then determined the accident scene was in Garfield County. Search and Rescue responded about 4 p.m., Dalessandri said, and sheriff’s deputies were on the scene between 6:30 and 7 p.m.
The Sunlight Ski Patrol also responded to the scene of the accident.
Dalessandri said it took some time to determine where the accident was located. It was in an area close to the Pitkin, Garfield and Mesa county lines.
“Information was sketchy about where they were,” he said.
Once the location of the accident was determined, it took rescuers between 25 and 30 minutes to reach it, he added.
“Fall and spring are the worst times for an avalanche,” Dalessandri said, because snow alternately freezes and thaws, creating unstable layers of snow and ice that are prone to slide, even on relatively moderate slopes.
According to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center the most avalanche-prone months are February, March and January, in that order.
About 98 percent of all avalanches start on slopes of 25 to 50 degrees. Although most avalanches occur above treeline they can also run on small slopes well below treeline in gullies, road cuts and small openings in trees.
Monday, students, teachers and staff at Rifle High School were in shock over the accident.
“We’re having a really hard day,” said senior class counselor Rick Schmitz.
He spoke of Walker as “the outdoors type, a kid who loved to hunt and snowmobile.”
Walker was in Auto Mechanics II, an advanced class, Schmitz said.
“He was real good working with cars. He had a unique sense of humor.”
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