Avalanche Kills Sidecountry Snowboarder in Bear Creek
by Martinique Davis
Feb 13, 2012 | 35691 views | 1 1 comments | 91 91 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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UPDATED Feb. 15, 4 p.m.

TELLURIDE – Longtime Telluride resident Nate Soules died in an avalanche Monday, Feb. 13, in the backcountry terrain located just east of the ski area boundary in the area known as Contention.

Soules, 38, former Events and Activities Coordinator for the Telluride Ski and Golf Club, is survived by his wife, Hilary, and their young son.

Telluride Ski Patrol received a report of an avalanche in the Contention area at 12:37 p.m. Monday. According to San Miguel County Sheriff Bill Masters, two skiers in the area saw evidence of a slide in the terrain known as The Fingers, a section of the Contention slide path located outside of the Telluride Ski Area's eastern boundary near the top of the Plunge Lift (Lift 9). The skiers initiated an avalanche beacon search, and quickly found a signal from Soules’ avalanche beacon. They uncovered the victim, buried under approximately four feet of snow; he was breathless and pulseless, with signs of head trauma.

San Miguel County Search and Rescue called in the Telluride Helitrax helicopter pilot and crew to vet the area for safety before sending SAR members to the scene, including County Coroner Telluride Ski Patroller and SAR member Emil Sante and other members of SAR; the group ultimately extricated Soules’ body from the scene, using a helicopter long-line system.

Rescuers say that Soules was riding alone when the avalanche occurred. He was fully equipped with an avalanche beacon, an Avalung, and an ABS Air Bag System, which had been deployed (although it had been “shredded,” Masters said).

SAR searched the area for other victims, using beacons and an avalanche rescue dog, but did not find any indication that others were buried in the slide; rescue operations were hampered by numerous people unknowingly skiing in on rescue crews from above.

“There were other slides in Reggae and in Contention; all of that area was moving,” Masters said Monday evening. “We’re hoping nobody else was buried – we don’t think so, but we can’t know for sure.”

Soules likely accessed the area via one of the U.S. Forest Service Backcountry Access Points, located along the boundary near the top of the Plunge Lift.

The accident occurred almost 23 years to the day of the tragic 1989 Valentine’s Day avalanche in Temptation Chute that killed two local skiers and injured another, precipitating the federally mandated closure of the terrain located to the east of the ski area boundary from the top of Needle Rock Chute to top of Palmyra Peak – effectively closing all of Upper Bear Creek to skiing.

In the early years of the Telluride Ski Resort, access to the Upper and Lower Bear Creek areas had been under the “Mellow Yellow” policy, meaning winter travel wasn’t advised but backcountry skiers weren’t breaking any laws skiing there. A string of avalanche fatalities in Bear Creek during the winter of 1987/88 caused the area to be closed, but access to parts of Upper Bear Creek reopened in 1988/89. That opening didn’t last for long, with the 1989 Temptation accident prompting another federal closure, in 1990.

Ten years passed before the USFS Backcountry Access Point was installed at the top of what is now Revelation Bowl. This gave backcountry riders access to Upper Bear Creek, but the lower terrain of Reggae and Contention remained closed by the USFS.

Backcountry Access Points were installed at the Telluride Ski Area’s eastern boundary, above the frequently traveled Contention and Reggae terrain, in 2009, per the USFS. Soon thereafter, a land dispute erupted between the USFS, Telluride Ski and Golf, and controversial developer Tom Chapman, leading to closure of the Upper Bear Creek “Gold Hill” Backcountry Access Point once again in 2010.

Monday’s accident followed a storm that dropped over 10 inches of snow across the San Juans. The Colorado Avalanche Information Center had posted an Avalanche Warning for the North and South San Juan zones that morning, citing avalanche danger as high (Level 4) on leeward slopes and noting that Monday “is a good day to avoid traveling on or below avalanche terrain” since natural and triggered avalanches would be likely.

The CAIC's investigation of the avalanche that killed Soules found the slide averaged 25 feet across, with a 3 foot crown; it ran 900 vertical feet, with debris 5 to 8 feet deep.



Earlier version of story posted on Monday, Feb. 13:

TELLURIDE – Longtime Telluride resident Nate Soules died in an avalanche Monday, Feb. 13, in the backcountry terrain located just east of the ski area boundary in the area known as Contention.

Soules, 38, former Events and Activities Coordinator for the Telluride Ski and Golf Club, is survived by his wife, Hilary, and their young son.

Telluride Ski Patrol received a report of an avalanche in the Contention area at 12:37 p.m. Monday. According to San Miguel County Sheriff Bill Masters, two skiers in the area saw evidence of a slide in the terrain known as The Fingers, a section of the Contention slide path located outside of the Telluride Ski Area's eastern boundary near the top of the Plunge Lift (Lift 9). The skiers initiated an avalanche beacon search, and quickly found a signal from Soules’ avalanche beacon. They uncovered the victim, buried under approximately four feet of snow; he was breathless and pulseless, with signs of head trauma.

San Miguel County Search and Rescue called in the Telluride Helitrax helicopter pilot and crew to vet the area for safety before sending SAR members to the scene, including County Coroner Telluride Ski Patroller and SAR member Emil Sante and other members of SAR; the group ultimately extricated Soules’ body from the scene, using a helicopter long-line system.

Unofficial reports indicate that Soules was riding alone when the avalanche occurred. He was fully equipped with an avalanche beacon, an Avalung, and an ABS Air Bag System, which had been deployed (although it had been “shredded,” Masters said).

SAR searched the area for other victims, using beacons and an avalanche rescue dog, but did not find any indication that others were buried in the slide; ;rescue operations were hampered by numerous people unknowingly skiing in on rescue crews from above.

“There were other slides in Reggae and in Contention; all of that area was moving,” Masters said Monday evening. “We’re hoping nobody else was buried – we don’t think so, but we can’t know for sure.”

Soules likely accessed the area via one of the U.S. Forest Service Backcountry Access Points, located along the boundary near the top of the Plunge Lift.

The accident occurred almost 23 years to the day of the tragic 1989 Valentine’s Day avalanche in Temptation Chute that killed two local skiers and injured another, precipitating the federally mandated closure of the terrain located to the east of the ski area boundary from the top of Needle Rock Chute to top of Palmyra Peak – effectively closing all of Upper Bear Creek to skiing.

In the early years of the Telluride Ski Resort, access to the Upper and Lower Bear Creek areas had been under the “Mellow Yellow” policy, meaning winter travel wasn’t advised but backcountry skiers weren’t breaking any laws skiing there. A string of avalanche fatalities in Bear Creek during the winter of 1987/88 caused the area to be closed, but access to parts of Upper Bear Creek reopened in 1988/89. That opening didn’t last for long, with the 1989 Temptation accident prompting another federal closure, in 1990.

Ten years passed before the USFS Backcountry Access Point was installed at the top of what is now Revelation Bowl. This gave backcountry riders access to Upper Bear Creek, but the lower terrain of Reggae and Contention remained closed by the USFS.

Backcountry Access Points were installed at the Telluride Ski Area’s eastern boundary, above the frequently traveled Contention and Reggae terrain, in 2009, per the USFS. Soon thereafter, a land dispute erupted between the USFS, Telluride Ski and Golf, and controversial developer Tom Chapman, leading to closure of the Upper Bear Creek “Gold Hill” Backcountry Access Point once again in 2010.

Monday’s accident followed a storm that dropped over 10 inches of snow across the San Juans. The Colorado Avalanche Information Center had posted an Avalanche Warning for the North and South San Juan zones that morning, citing avalanche danger as high (Level 4) on leeward slopes and noting that Monday “is a good day to avoid traveling on or below avalanche terrain” since natural and triggered avalanches would be likely.

The CAIC's investigation of the avalanche that killed Soules found the slide averaged 25 feet across, with a 3 foot crown; it ran 900 vertical feet, with debris 5 to 8 feet deep.



(Photos by Brett Schreckengost)
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grandey43
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February 14, 2012
Marti-- Thank you for a thorough and professional account of this tragic slide. It cannot be easy to write something like this about someone whom you no doubt know personally, especially with your understanding of the dynamics of a young family. You deserve great credit for including the information we all want to know, with the humanity we all strive for. --Jerry Grandey