As I was snowmobiling myself in Grand Lake, Colorado in the days after Christmas, an avalanche killed two in our very own riding area...Gravel Mountain. (Excellent report with details and photos here) This is an area that we (the guys I normally ride with and I) avoided that day as the CAIC site indicated that the avalanche danger was extreme. The Web site for the Colorado Avalanche Information Center is updated twice a day. I visit this site each morning on the days that I ride. That day...the danger was considered extreme due to high winds and new snow loading on an already weak snowpack. What makes this particular avalanche notable is the lack of preparation...or readiness...or sensibility relative to the potential and the conditions of the snow. No avalanche beacons. No way for survivors to unbury them. A beacon costs $150-$500 new...they all work regardless of price. Sympathy slips a bit when I hear these stories...as you can tell. Locals tell me that these riders had been coming to Grand lake for years to ride together. Complacency??? Who knows. It certainly makes me angry. The story goes that a father essentially killed his son and another young man attempting to help when one was stuck on the slope by riding above them on the slope, triggering the avalanche. The following day I saw the hole that both men were recovered from...just a few feet under. The presence of beacons wold have surely led to better results given the amount of people present with the ability to search with their equipment. $200 bucks people...
I want to thank everyone that reached out to Amy and I that day when the news hit. Thank you all for caring to do so.
In a similar story, 3 of 11 survive a series of avalanches while snowmobiling in Fernie, B.C. Here is an interview with one of the survivors. Gut-wrenching. A must see.
As described in the interview above, this unique avalanche was actually a series of avalanches over a short span o time that made it impossible to rescue everyone. As a result, difficult decisions were made leaving scars for all. A real sad story. I feel for those involved and affected by this extreme tragedy. Please click the link and listen to one survivors account.
Lessons? Well, it is clear that preparedness and technology does not guarantee survival. It does however increase the potential to survive. In a normal slide, the use of beacons, shovels and probes increase survival rats substantially. Add other technical tools like airbags or avalungs and the suvival rate may increase further. The only real solution is avoidance or abstinence. Avoidance did not work in this case...and abstinence was not in the cards with these guys.