A backcountry skier employed by a guide service was killed in a slide in Clear Creek County on Thursday amid “historic” avalanche conditions across Colorado so extreme that authorities were advising people on what to do if their vehicles are struck by a wall of snow.
The avalanche on Jones Pass killed 48-year-old Hans Berg, of nearby Empire. He is the seventh slide fatality in the state this season and the second person to die in a Colorado avalanche in the past week.
The death also means Colorado has surpassed the average number of people — six — killed seasonally in avalanches in the state.
Berg was employed by Powder Addiction,a backcountry guide service based in Empire that provides snowcat excursions and guided touring.
The Clear Creek County Sheriff’s Office says other employees of Powder Addition and clients on the guided trip dug Berg from where he was buried in the avalanche, off U.S 40 south of Winter Park.
Further details on Thursday’s slide, which was first made public by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, have not been released.
Ethan Greene, who leads the avalanche information center, says the recent avalanche cycle has been “historic.” The conditions leading to the slides date back to early-season snowfall in October and November, which created a weak base layer upon which feet of snow have fallen since last week.
Thursday marked the first time in CAIC history that four of its backcountry forecast zones were listed as being under “extreme” conditions. While the danger levels have improved, on Friday officials said backcountry travel is still very unsafe.
Thursday also saw another round of long road closures in the high country as the Colorado Department of Transportation cleaned up from natural and intentionally triggered slides on Interstate 70 from Georgetown to Vail.
Colorado 91, near Copper Mountain, was the epicenter of danger and backed up traffic. One avalanche across the highway to Leadville buried several cars under feet of snow.
The conditions on Thursday prompted CDOT to warn motorists against mountain travel, saying if they choose to risk it “please use extreme caution.”
The agency also said that should someone encounter an avalanche or powder cloud while driving:
- Reduce your speed
- Pull over to shoulder, if possible
- Turn off your vehicle
- Remain in your vehicle
Arapahoe Basin was shuttered Thursday into Friday morning because of dangerous avalanche conditions on Loveland Pass and in the resort’s East Wall area.
“This is a time of great uncertainty,” Arapahoe Basin chief Alan Henceroth wrote in his blog.