Large avalanche turns deadly in Aspen

Posted By: The Ski Channel on February 25, 2010 7:51 am

On the heels of the incredibly tragic news involving the death of CR Johnson yesterday, we’re sorry to report some more sadness.

On Tuesday, a large avalanche near Aspen (near the backcountry Lindley Hut, which is actually 16 miles from Aspen) took the life of 60-year-old John Joseph Kelley. Kelley, as Aspen resident, was on a trip with close family and friends. He was ascending the slope with climbing skins and skis when the size 3 avalanche began sliding. According to Brian McCall at the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, the avalanche was human triggered.

“Our best guess was that he was halfway up the slope when the avalanche started,” McCall said. “It did propagate quite a ways above him…There was not a lot of vertical drop, but there was a lot of snow that entrained in the avalanche,” continued McCall. “There were some places where we probed the avalanche debris to be over 9 or 10 feet deep, so it was quite a large avalanche.”

Kelley was not wearing an avalanche beacon. He was buried 3 feet deep in debris and his body was found yesterday.

Although reports say this avalanche was human-triggered, many areas near Aspen have seen natural avalanches lately, resulting from the recent storm that left up to 3 feet of snow in the area. “On Tuesday we received reports of avalanches in Ruedi Creek, McFarlane Bowl, Highlands Ridge, Avalanche Peak, Tonar Bowl and Maroon Bowl areas,” stated Wednesday’s snow and avalanche discussion on the Colorado Avalanche Information Center’s forecast for Aspen. “All of the avalanches occurred in near and above treeline areas on slopes facing … well pretty much every aspect. Many of these slides were observed from a distance, but probably involved both new and old snow layers.”

Hugh Zucker, president of Mountain Rescue Aspen and a sheriff’s deputy, reminds us all to be fully prepared and knowledgeable when traversing the backcountry. “To whatever extent you are familiar with something, it requires that much more discipline and care,” Zucker said. “It’s really important that people stick to the basics in terms of safe avalanche travel. Number one, read the reports. The danger was high. And it is important to always use backcountry safety techniques. Have a beacon. Have a shovel and probe. And travel appropriately in groups by not exposing the entire group to a possible hazard. Everything back there that hasn’t gone, will go, and it is likely to be triggered by stepping on it,” he said. “Cracks can propagate up the slope and drop the whole thing on you.”