Leadville News – March 9

Skiers Trigger Avalanche on Sleeping Indian, Rescued

As Lake County begins to see a rush of visitors to enjoy Spring Break skiing, it was two Leadville men who triggered an avalanche on March 7 in the area commonly known as Sleeping Indian. Fortunately, rescue crews from a wide variety of agencies executed a successful mission, bringing both men out alive.

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Rescue teams from a variety of agencies and counties assess the situation at the scene of Wednesday’s Avalanche on Mt Arkansas, commonly know as the Sleeping Indian. Photo: Lake County Search and Rescue Facebook Page.

According to Lake County Public Information Officer Betty Benson, an avalanche on Mt. Arkansas was reported to Lake County Dispatch at approx. 9:30 a.m. March 7. Many residents know the area as the Sleeping Indian because of the mountain’s unique shape. It looms high above stork curve on Highway 91, north of Leadville and just below Fremont Pass, near the Climax Mine.

According to reports from Leadville Today (LT) news sources, the two men in their 30s are from Leadville and were enjoying a day of backcountry skiing when one got swept up in an avalanche. One of the men was buried, but able to partially extract himself, exposing his face and one armHe otherwise could not move. The other male was witness to the avalanche and immediately initiated help for his buddy. 

As reported by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center the incident occurred in the Northeast-facing chute near the summit of Mt Arkansas, located in the Mosquito Range at an elevation of 13,700 feet with a slope angle of 45 degrees, challenging terrain for the rescue crews, who arrived in force at the scene.

The northeast-facing chute near the summit of Mt Arkansas, located in the Mosquito Range at an elevation of 13,700 feet with a slope angle of 45 degrees was challenging terrain for the rescue crews, who arrived in force at the Avalanche scene on March 7. Photo: Lake County Office of Emergency Management Facebook Page.

According to PIO Benson, the Colorado Rapid Avalanche Deployment (C-RAD) team from Arapahoe Basin Ski Area extricated the partially buried male, and provided medical treatment as needed. The patient’s injuries were severe enough to warrant a Flight for Life extraction at the scene where the male was eventually transported to St. Anthony Hospital in Denver. A search crew was also deployed to pick up the friend who initially reported the situation to dispatch, and remained on the face of Mt. Arkansas to assist in identifying his companion’s location. The second male was very cold, but otherwise in good shape.  Both men, who LT learned work at a local eatery, were safe off the mountain by approx. 2 p.m.

Tally another mark in the “win” column for the experts who risk their own lives by heading into dangerous conditions and situations. It’s also a reminder to backcountry enthusiasts to be aware of conditions, but perhaps just as important, if you do get into trouble, please call for help immediately. These trained professionals know what they are doing, they can read the snow and the situation, and know how to safely extract victims after a slide has occurred. Please don’t think that you can handle the situation on your own, that decision just puts more people at risk. CALL for help.

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It was all hands – and paws – on deck during the March 7 rescue mission after two Leadville backcountry skiers triggered an avalanche. Both men were brought out alive.

On a side note kudos to the Climax Mine who recently updated cell phone reception in the area with the installation of a new tower, greatly improving communications for this mission. A reminder that many of these teams rely on donations to assist with equipment and volunteer training. So, if you’re a giver, consider a donation locally to the Lake County Search and Rescue crew or other worthy rescue group. The life you save may very well be your own!

PIO Benson reported that on the scene assisting with the mission were Lake County Search and Rescue, Summit County Search and Rescue (Mountain Rescue), Lake County Sheriff Deputies, Summit County Sheriff Deputies, Patrol, St. Vincent Ambulance, Climax Rescue, Lake County Office of Emergency Management personnel, Leadville/Lake County Fire Rescue, Lake County Public Works, Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC), American Red Cross, C-Rad, Flight for Life, and Colorado Parks &Wildlife.  The assistance of these agencies created a well-organized, efficient, and timely rescue of the 2 males involved.

While Wednesday’s mission had a “happy,” non-fatal ending, as backcountry snow conditions change and shift with each late winter storm the Colorado Avalanche Information Center is issuing warnings to backcountry enthusiasts to avoid places where you can trigger an avalanche in the Sawatch zone, which includes Lake County.

The following video was released by the CAIC on March 1, 2018 and features “worrisome snowpack structure in the alpine near Independence Pass,” located above Highway 82 near Twin lakes, located 15 miles south of Leadville.

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