A group of backcountry skiers caught in an avalanche last weekend, leaving one dead, was taking part in an avalanche safety course with the Silverton Avalanche School, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.
In all, six people were caught in an avalanche Saturday.
One member, Peter Marshall, 40, of Longmont, was buried under at least 8 feet of snow. The group was able to dig Marshall out, but attempts to revive him on scene were unsuccessful.
Marshall’s death marked the first avalanche fatality this winter in Colorado.
The Silverton Avalanche School. at 11 a.m. Monday posted a statement to its Facebook page saying the group was on a Recreational Level 2 American Institute of Avalanche Research and Education Avalanche Course, which is geared for advanced backcountry recreationalists
The Silverton Avalanche School posted that this is the first avalanche fatality since the school began operations in 1962.
“This tragic accident impacts all of us and our deepest condolences go out to the family,” the school wrote. “Our number one priority at this time is ensuring the safety and well being of the family of the victim and the students and staff involved in the accident.”
Silverton Avalanche School director Jim Donovan said Monday the school will work with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center to conduct a full investigation into the incident. Until that detailed report is complete, he declined further comment on the occurrences of that day.
“This is going to be a significant, historical accident that’s going to be used in avalanche education for years and years to come,” Donovan said. “And we want to make sure the initial reporting is accurate.
According to a preliminary report, an avalanche triggered by the group set off a second avalanche, catching Marshall in its path, in the area of Upper Senator Beck Basin, northwest of Red Mountain Pass, at about 13,000 feet in elevation.
The rest of the group made its way to U.S. Highway 550 with the help of emergency rescue personnel.
Ethan Greene, director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, said the Colorado Avalanche Information Center will conduct a full investigation into the details of the incident. As of Monday morning, the center was about a third complete with its interviews and investigation.
Staff with the center has been unable to visit the site because of weather conditions, though employees will try Monday or Tuesday.
“A lot of the information we’d collect will be destroyed because of this storm, but we’ll collect as much as we can,” he said.
Greene said the center hopes to have a full report about the avalanche within a week.
He made clear, however, the center’s report is not in anyway a criminal investigation.
“We don’t have that regulatory authority,” he said. “It’s just a more detailed look at the event.”
As with any death, authorities will investigate whether any crime, such as negligence, was committed.
Calls to the Ouray County Sheriff’s Office were not returned Monday morning.
Greene said there is some precedent in Colorado for deaths of people who are taking part in an avalanche course. In 2005, a skier died in an avalanche safety course outside Aspen, he said.
Staff with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center spoke with the guide who led the trip Saturday, but Greene declined to go into more detail.
According to Marshall’s LinkedIn account, he worked at Specialty Products in Longmont. Calls to the company’s CEO were not returned Monday morning. His profile also says he graduated from Colorado School of Mines in 2001.
According to its website, the Silverton Avalanche School says its instructors are recognized members of the American Avalanche Association, American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education, and the Canadian Avalanche Association.
“All have gone through a rigorous training and education process,” the website says.
A Level 2 course is a three-day program, according to the website. This program ran Friday through Sunday, based out of the St. Paul Lodge hut near Silverton.
Students are required to have Level 1 avalanche training and have completed an avalanche rescue course, the website says.
In its posted statement, the Silverton Avalanche School thanked the responding agencies, including the San Juan County Search and Rescue, Ouray Mountain Rescue, La Plata County Search and Rescue, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center and Careflight.