A 23-year-old Durango woman has died after being caught in an avalanche and swept into trees on Kendall Mountain south of Silverton.
Olivia Buchanan was pronounced dead Tuesday night after being flown to Mercy Regional Medical Center, San Juan County Coroner Keri Metzler said Wednesday.
Buchanan was not responsive when taken to the hospital, but was treated as a cold water drowning victim until she could not be revived at Mercy, Metzler said.
San Juan County Sheriff Sue Kurtz told the Silverton Standard & The Miner that two people were skiing from the top of Kendall down the Rabbit Ears avalanche chute, also known as Idaho Gulch. She said that after the avalanche Buchanan’s male ski partner began CPR.
At 4 p.m. emergency responders got word of the situation and mobilized, said Jim Donovan, captain of San Juan Search and Rescue. Flight for Life was able to shuttle rescue crew members up to near the site near 11,000 feet but was unable to land, he said. Silverton is at 9,300 feet.
Forecasters from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center were also on hand to analyze avalanche danger for the responders, Donovan said.
San Juan Search and Rescue was able to take Buchanan down the mountain, partly in the darkness, he said.
Kurtz said Buchanan was taken to the waiting ambulance about 7 p.m. She was then transferred to the Flight for Life Helicopter and was flown to Mercy.
Buchanan’s Facebook page says she’s a former intern at the Silverton Avalanche School and was studying geography at Montana State University in Bozeman. Her Linkedin account says she was a “snow science student.”
Donovan said Buchanan has many friends in the Silverton area and was very passionate about skiing and about avalanche dangers.
“It’s very tragic for the community up here,” said Donovan, who also is director of the Silverton Avalanche School.
Kurtz said the responding team “did an outstanding job with this rescue. We are very fortunate to have such dedicated and skilled volunteers in our community.”
Donovan said Silverton Mountain ski patrollers also helped.
“It was a very big team effort,” he said. “All the different organizations pulled together real quickly to help out.”
A preliminary report on the Colorado Avalanche Information Center website Wednesday said a group of backcountry skiers were descending the Rabbit Ears avalanche path on Kendall Mountain. One skier was caught in a small avalanche and washed into a stand of trees.
“The avalanche released on a portion of the avalanche path (gully) that is below treeline (around 11,000 feet) and faces northwest,” the report says.
Donovan said the slide was not deep but probably ran about 400 feet on a slope with many trees on it.
CAIC employees planned to visit the avalanche site Wednesday and give a more in-depth report when information becomes available, the online report says.
Donovan cautioned other backcountry users that although avalanche conditions are considered “moderate,” he said that they’re using the term “scary moderate.” Warming temperatures in the last couple of days were probably a contributing factor in the slide.
“Right now is actually a very tricky time to evaluate conditions,” he said. “It might look safe out there, but it’s tricky because it’s just not as obvious. ... You could set off a large avalanche.”
An autopsy will be performed in Grand Junction later this week, Metzler said.
This was the second avalanche death in Colorado in a week. A climber died Dec. 31 on the east side of Kelso Mountain near Torreys Peak just east of Loveland Pass.
Also, a snowboarder went for a 900-foot ride after triggering an avalanche on Friday in the Upper Bear Creek sidecountry area near Telluride, leaving his snowboard broken but the man uninjured, according to the Telluride Daily Planet.
The slide began on the east-facing side of Nellie’s at around 12,000 feet, with the snowboarder being pulled through “the mine” cliff band, according to a report by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.
Mark Esper of the Silverton Standard & The Miner contributed to this report.