Rescuers comb Berthoud Pass area for missing snowboarder
Ryan Summerlin January 18, 2011
WINTER PARK – As many as 41 rescuers were looking Tuesday afternoon for snowboarder Jeff Miller, 26, of Fraser, last seen on the west side of Berthoud Pass on Monday, Jan. 17.
The extensive search was expected to be suspended at dark and resume on Wednesday, said Grand County Sheriff Rod Johnson just before press time on Tuesday.
Miller was snowboarding on the pass with friend Nick James, 29, and Miller’s German shepherd Beau. James last saw the dog and Miller behind him above a small slide James had triggered, according to Johnson.
James then finished his run through the drainage to the bottom. When Miller did not show up, James hitched rides and did two more passes looking for him, Johnson said. After the second pass, James called for help.
As many as 15 members of Grand County Search and Rescue initially responded to the emergency call, which came in at 3:30 p.m. on Monday. The search was called off at about 10 p.m. Monday night due to hazardous conditions of high winds, blowing snow and avalanche danger, according to Search and Rescue spokesperson Greg Foley.
Search and Rescue positioned a mobile incident command vehicle at the trailhead through the night, then continued its search early Tuesday morning, he said.
The search has concentrated in an area above Seven Mile Run, near the second switchback from the top of Berthoud on the Grand County side. Backcountry skiers might refer to the area as below “the fingers.”
Search teams utilized a search and rescue dog team as well as a Recco device, which assists rescue teams in locating possible burials. Meanwhile, other team members continued a ground search, hoping the snowboarder built a snow cave to survive the night.
New snowfall and high winds quickly covered tracks in the area, hampering search efforts.
Berthoud closed through the day
Avalanche control operations were held up on the west side of Berthoud Pass as rescuers searched, according to CDOT spokesperson Bob Wilson.
“If there is even the possibility of someone missing at the slope, we do not do any control,” he said at noon on Tuesday.
Although weather conditions were improving, the pass was closed for the rest of the day, but CDOT operators did not expect another overnight closure.
“We do expect (the closure) to continue through the majority of the day,” Wilson said. “Until we can account for the individual, we’re not going to do anything at this point.”
Berthoud was closed shortly after 11 a.m. on Monday due to wind speeds clocked at up to 90 miles per hour, creating poor visibility, heavy snowfall and high avalanche potential in the area.
Avalanche control started on the east side of Berthoud Pass at the Stanley avalanche slide path on Tuesday morning. As much as 20 feet of snow toppled onto the roadway from the work, Wilson said.