Search and Rescue and Telluride Ski Patrol have recovered the body of a backcountry skier who was killed in an avalanche Tuesday in the Bear Creek Preserve area in Telluride, according to the San Miguel County Sheriff’s Office.
Searchers found the body of 47 year-old Salvadore Garcia-Atance with a probe line near the creek at the top of the Bear Creek trail about 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, according to a press release from public information officer Susan Lilly of the Sheriff’s Office.
The avalanche was set off by one of two snowboarders, the Sheriff’s Office said, adding that an investigation continues.
“Of course, this is not the outcome any of us were hoping for, and on behalf of myself and all of us involved in this mission, we extend our sincerest condolences to Mr. Garcia-Atance’s family,” Sheriff Bill Masters said in the press release.
The avalanche occurred between 10 and 11 a.m. Tuesday in the Tempter area of Bear Creek a couloir off the Telluride Ski Resort. The Colorado Avalanche Information Center said the slide deposited debris about 1,000 feet long, 100 feet wide and up to 30 feet deep.
The area is adjacent to the Telluride Ski Resort and is considered out of bounds and prone to avalanches.
Garcia-Atance had been skiing up the Bear Creek drainage from town using climbing skins. He was reported overdue by a family member at 4:20 p.m. Tuesday, according to the San Miguel Sheriff’s Office. The Bear Creek Trail in Telluride was closed at 5:24 p.m. Tuesday to allow for a search of the area.
An unsuccessful two-hour ground search was conducted in the area late Tuesday with rescuers and Telluride Avalanche dog teams.
Ground search efforts continued Wednesday morning by San Miguel sheriff deputies, search dogs, Telluride Ski Patrol, and a Telluride Helitrax helicopter.
By order of the sheriff, Telluride ski Lifts 14 and 6 were ordered closed for much of Wednesday for the safety of rescuer efforts. Bear Creek Trail and the lifts later reopened, but the avalanche threat continues.
“Whether you are walking your dog, skinning up, or backcountry skiing, Bear Creek is not a safe place to be,” Masters said.
The steep, upper portion of the Bear Creek drainage attracts experienced backcountry skiers and snowboarders who access it from the ski area through a backcountry gate.
Garcia-Atance had recently relocated to Telluride. The Bear Creek trail he was skiing up on from town is one of the most popular and ends at a waterfall. While not especially steep, the trail is situated at the bottom of much steeper terrain prone to avalanches.
Searchers discovered Garcia-Atance’s backpack before locating his body buried under the avalanche near the large boulder below the waterfall.
He was caught in an avalanche suspected to have been triggered by a snowboarder higher up in the Bear Creek drainage, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
The snowboarders have been identified by the Sheriff’s Office, and are from the area, Lilly said. They are cooperating with investigators.
Part of the investigation seeks to determine where they entered the Bear Creek backcountry from the ski area, Lilly said.
Access into the out-of-bounds area is allowed through designated backcountry gates, but not everyone follows that rule, officials said, with some ducking under ropes to access particular chutes.
Lilly said the sheriff has the authority to close Bear Creek in an emergency, but closures will not be done routinely.
In February 2018, legendary Telluride snowboarder Gabe Wright died after a fatal crash in the Bear Creek backcountry. There were no signs of an avalanche at the scene.
The Telluride area currently is under a “considerable” avalanche danger warning, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. Dangerous avalanche conditions exist above and near timberline.
“Cautious route-finding and conservative decision-making essential,” the warning states.
A winter storm warning is in effect until 5 p.m. Friday in the San Juan Mountains. Twelve to 24 inches of snow is expected, with up to 33 inches at higher elevations.
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