This post comes at a sad time due to the recent Loveland Pass, CO avalanche. I was actually in the midst of chopping up massive amounts of video from Colorado when that avalanche took the lives of five mountain brothers on April 20th in the Sheep Creek drainage of Loveland Pass. Two nights ago I read the official report from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center ( CAIC ) and I have to say it was very upsetting to learn the details of the incident (as they always are). As I read the report of snow conditions/snowpack (summarized below), I realized that some of the clips I had been chopping up contained footage pertinent to their snow assessment and thus, worth sharing here. It’s footage we captured of Alaska heli skiing pioneer, Dean Cummings, demonstrating “Hasty Pits” – a quick snow pit to help analyze snow structure and stability. This is worth watching to see the CO snow (as seen in early Feb.) which was one of the main factors in this tragic event, along with getting a quick glimpse of Dean’s on the move/real time snow assessment techniques. This will be the first short video in a series of Dean Cummings’ “Steep Life” episodes.
Here’s a summary of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center’s avalanche report (but urge you to read the full report for more details): 4 splitboarders, 1 approach ski/snowboarder and 1 rando skier left the Rocky Mountain High Backcountry Gathering at Loveland ski area on 4/20 and entered the Sheep Creek drainage from the old Summer road at Scotty’s corner which put them slightly above the the drainage and below the bottom pitch of peak 13,152′. As the final 4 members were crossing the open slope (apx 50′ apart) heading for the small stand of trees that 2 other members had already reached, they heard/felt the collapse of the slope. At that time the 4 still on the open slope ran for the stand of trees; seconds later the crack had propagated up the hill releasing the deep slab that was 800 feet wide and extended 600′ up, and the entire group was engulfed pushing them 5 to 20 feet down into the Sheep Creek drainage. The rando skier was the only one in the group who came to rest close to the surface with his lower left arm free and able to clear the snow from his face. Even though he cleared the snow and could breathe, he was unable to move and remained pinned for 4 hours until the search party arrived. All of the victims were recovered after a beacon/probe search, the last victim was recovered 10 to 12 feet below debris. It was also mentioned in the report that at least 2 members of the group were wearing avalanche airbags, but neither were deployed. Other members were wearing Avalungs, but none were found in their mouths.
Once again, our deepest sympathies to all family and friends of those lost in this tragedy.