Backcountry snow didn’t forgive
WALDEN, Colo. – Yet more evidence has arrived that an avalanche beacon is a tool, not a talisman. The unfortunate story for this message is told in the tragic death of 31-year-old Luke Oldenburg.
Oldenburg, a landscaper from Fort Collins, Colo., was with two companions on Dec. 2 near Cameron Pass, in Colorado’s Medicine Bow Range. The route they used to snowshoe to a bowl called Hot Dog is not uncommon, and located on a slope of only 24 degrees, below the normal threshold for avalanches.
He was wearing snowshoes with a splitboard on his back. All three men had avalanche transceivers and shovels, and one of his companions had a probe pole.
What caused the avalanche on the slope of 37 to 40 degrees above the men was not clear to investigators. The men may have triggered it, or it may have been natural. The avalanche danger that day had been classified as “considerable.” Still, about 90 percent of avalanche-caused deaths result from slides triggered by the victims.
The snow slide missed his companions but buried Oldenburg beneath 6 feet of snow. Using their beacons, the companions quickly located his body. However, even with shovels, it took several minutes to extricate his body from the concrete-like snow.
When they uncovered him, he had stopped breathing and his heart had stopped. They were able to resuscitate him, and then began pulling him down the trail in a sleeping bag. He was in a helicopter being attended by paramedics within three hours of the slide. Still, he died about 10 days later.
“The take-home message from this accident, and a lot of accidents, is to not get caught in a slide,” said Ethan Greene, director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.
“Wearing beacons, knowing how to use them, and conducting an efficient rescue – all these things help, but they don’t guarantee your survival. What guarantees your survival is not getting caught in an avalanche.”
Beacon saves sledder in Wyoming
JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – A happier report was filed from Bondurant, Wyo., where a snowmobiler from Jackson was caught in an avalanche on Dec. 2. The slide was relatively small, but it buried his head under 2 feet of snow.
“When it started slowing down, that’s when I started freaking out,” said Jason Blair, 33. “It got tight, and I couldn’t move.”
Ending up face down, he told the Jackson Hole News&Guide that the weight was “unbearable,” as if somebody had dumped snow from the bucket of a front-end loader onto his back.
Luck was with him. He had eight companions that day, and they immediately rushed to where they believed he was. He was wearing an avalanche transceiver, and it worked. His companions also had beacons, although some discovered that their batteries were dead. One of those without a workable beacon began probing, and within the fourth try luckily hit Blair’s helmet.
Within five minutes, the companions got air to Blair’s mouth and nose, which were packed with snow.
He was also lucky in another way. He had put the beacon into his backpack. It wasn’t ripped from his body in the slide, but it could have been. From now on, said Blair, his beacon goes around his body.
San Juan mining renews but with a new context
OURAY, Colo. – With renewed mining continuing at Yankee Boy Basin, near Ouray, officials are adopting a policy governing who snowplows the road into the basin.
A major concern is the potential for avalanches. The history books are rife with stories of avalanches along that road in the heyday of mining, when ore was transported by mule trains from the basin.
In past decades, companies plowed the road as necessary without seeking formal permission. But things are different now. More people are snowmobiling and skiing on the slopes above the road than in the past. As such, Ouray County Commissioners wanted a more clear designation of responsibilities and liabilities. Among the agreements is that a sign will be posted at the road’s entrance noting that it is being “maintained only for mining activity.”
Deal reached on Vail affordable housing
VAIL, Colo. – Town and ski company officials played poker until the last minute, more or less. But they now have an agreement, after a fashion, about the terms by which Vail Resorts will come up with affordable housing as required by the town before a major new real estate development is opened.
The project is called Arrabelle, an Old World-type edifice with 66 condos, 33 hotel rooms, plus Starbucks, Patagonia, and all the rest. An ice-skating rink is in the middle. Two years in construction, it is to open Jan. 5.
Since summer, the town and ski company officials have crankily disagreed with one another about how Vail Resorts can meet its obligations to provide 120 employee housing units. The town preferred on-site, but Vail Resorts is wrangling for a location across I-70. Most of the negotiations have been occurring behind closed doors, which town officials insist is within the law.
For now, Vail Resorts will post a $17.3 million letter of credit – and has agreed to come up with a plan by late February. If it doesn’t, the town can cash the check.