An avalanche that took place Saturday, March 2, in the Paradise Bowl near Nokhu Crags on the west side of Cameron Pass resulted in a fatality after catching and burying two skiers. The deceased has been identified by the Jackson County Sheriff's Office as Joe Philpott, 26, of Fort Collins. This is the fourth avalanche related death in Colorado for the 2012 to 2013 winter season.
The surviving man was identified as Alex White, 24, who was airlifted to the Medical Center of the Rockies for injuries sustained during the incident. White was fully buried for approximately three hours until Jackson County Search and Rescue recovered the man. He is reportedly making a good recovery after the incident.
The Jackson County Sheriff's Office received the report of the incident at 1:15 p.m., said Jackson County Sheriff Scott Fischer, and White was recovered at 4:13 p.m. White was reported as wearing an Avalung, a device used to aid backcountry skiers in delaying asphyxiation after being buried in an avalanche, though it was unclear if he had the device in his mouth during the full time he was buried, said Scott Toepfer a mountain weather and avalanche forecaster for the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.
Colorado Avalanche Information Center investigators visited the avalanche site on Sunday and will release a full report of the incident after the completion of the investigation.
Preliminary reports of the incident indicate the slide was very large and could have been triggered by one of the skier's dog, which was following them while they were skiing, according to Toepfer. The avalanche was triggered after both skiers were reported as making it to what is considered the bottom of the run.
The avalanche occurred near treeline on a east/southeast facing slope. The crown of the avalanche was reported to be from one to six feet in spots with the avalanche being an estimated 1,200 feet wide. The avalanche ran approximately 400 to 500 feet vertically, breaking trees in its path.
Bad avalanche conditions are statewide, according to Toepfer. The Front Range zone has seen a continuing cycle of snow and wind with weather breaks in-between that have not allowed the weak layers near the bottom of the snowpack to strengthen. This makes avalanches dangerous as they can step down to old weak layers to create large and destructive avalanches.
"The snowpack is becoming touchier and more reactive with no indication that things will improve in the near future," Toepfer said. "It is a good winter to be cautious in the backcountry."
Check the current avalanche conditions in your area by visiting the Colorado Avalanche Information Center's website at avalanche.state.co.us.