Two dead in avalanche near Vail on Muddy Pass

John LaConte
Vail Daily
Rescue crews assemble in an attempt to find two timber sled riders buried in an avalanche on Saturday.
Special to the Vail Daily

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center reported on Sunday that the bodies of two timbersledders buried in an an avalanche have been recovered.

The Eagle County Coroner’s Office has identified the victims as Dillon Block, 28, and Cesar Almanza-Hernandez, 30. Both men were from Gypsum.

According to the CAIC’s preliminary report, the avalanche occurred at about 2:30 p.m. on Saturday.

“Three motorized snowbike riders were caught in an avalanche east of Red and White Mountain in Eagle County on Saturday … One rider was partially buried and was able to extricate himself and go for help,” according to the report. “The avalanche carried the other two riders into a gully in the drainage bottom. Avalanche debris piled up deeply and they were fully buried and killed.”

Search and Rescue volunteers recovered the bodies on Sunday afternoon.

According to the report, the avalanche occurred on a northeast-facing slope, below tree line, around 9,800 feet in elevation. It was about 650 feet wide and ran about 120 vertical feet.

“The avalanche initiated in the old snow layers about three feet below the snow surface. It stepped down to a weak layer near the ground, about five feet deep.”

The Eagle County Sheriff’s Office said it received word of the incident at 4:45 p.m. on Saturday. The Sheriff’s Office, Vail Mountain Rescue Group, Eagle County Coroner’s Office, Colorado Avalanche Information Center, United States Forest Service, the Vail Public Safety Communications Center and several local citizens assisted in the search and recovery efforts.

“We are so appreciative for of the volunteers with Vail Mountain Rescue Group who worked on this very tragic incident, our thoughts are with the families and friends of Mr. Block and Mr. Almanza-Hernandez,” Sheriff James Van Beek said.

Vail local Hunter Schleper was in the area Saturday and helped locate the riders. In a Facebook post, Schleper described the incident:

“As our group of 6 were heading back to the trucks, we were notified by a group of riders that a couple of timbersledders were buried in an avalanche,” Schleper posted on Sunday. “We all rushed as quickly as we could to help assist in locating the guys. Between 10 of us, we each dug and dug for hours. The riders were buried so deep that none of our probes could reach them.

“We finally located each of the riders at a depth of around 20 feet. It was clear that there was no chance of survival from early on. Everyone involved in the search executed the quickest recovery we could, but after 5 hours of digging and uncovering the riders, Vail Mountain Rescue finally arrived and we were immediately told to suspend the recovery. They felt it was too late into the evening and we were still in avalanche danger.

“We all made it out of the woods around 9 p.m., hearts heavy. We want to thank our friends and other riders who worked alongside us no questions asked to get the buried riders out. We extend our deepest condolences and sympathies to the families.”

The Sheriff’s Office warned backcountry travelers, especially people recreating on slopes between 30 and 45 degrees, to take the time to analyze snowpack layers and test their stability. The slope angle on the face that slid Saturday was about 37 degrees, according to CAIC’s report.

“Cautious route-finding and conservative decision-making is essential,” the Sheriff’s Office wrote.

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