Caption by the CAIC: "View of the avalanche from the Trout Lake trailhead on March 18. Rider 1 [who was solo] ascended (orange arrows) and descended (green lines) two southerly facing couloirs. He then ascended southward under Pilot Knob (orange line). ...

Caption by the CAIC: "View of the avalanche from the Trout Lake trailhead on March 18. Rider 1 [who was solo] ascended (orange arrows) and descended (green lines) two southerly facing couloirs. He then ascended southward under Pilot Knob (orange line). Based on evidence, Rider 1 likely triggered the avalanche in the area indicated by the yellow X, and was buried in the area indicated by the red circle." Image Courtesy: Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

Colorado Avalanche Information Center has released their final report of a fatal avalanche that took place in the area of Lizard Head Pass on March 17.

According to their report, a single backcountry snowboarder was caught, buried, and killed. While there were no witnesses to the avalanche, evidence left behind provided clues to what happened.

The avalanche took place at about 12,650 feet of elevation below Pilot Knob, which is found east of the pass. Based on tracks and GPS data, the snowboarder had traveled alone to the location, leaving the parking lot at the end of winter maintenance on Trout Lake Road. The boarder climbed and descended down a south and a southwest-facing couloir before moving toward the west and northwest-facing slopes below Pilot Knob.

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Roughly three inches of new snow had fallen in the area, landing on top of snow that had already buried a near-surface faceted layer of crystals that had formed during dry and windy nights of January and early February. This created the potential for a slide to break off two to three feet below the surface, resulting in a moderate two of five avalanche risk rating in the area.

A warning posted by the CAIC read: "The chances to trigger one of these larger avalanches decreases a bit more each day. You may not get the typical warning signs such as collapses and shooting cracks in the snowpack before triggering an avalanche on these slopes. Use caution on slopes around 35 degrees and limit travel underneath steep, open slopes to avoid this problem."

When the fatal avalanche broke off, it took place on slope that had an average angle of about 40 degrees, making it quite steep. It broke roughly 20 to 36 inches deep, gouging through old layers of snow as it ran 1,000 vertical feet downhill over multiple cliff bands and into a gully.

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While no one witnessed that actual slide, a guide from the Helitrax backcountry guiding company spotted the fresh debris field from the air at about 2:35 PM while with clients. After seeing tracks entering the slide area but not leaving, the pilot got closer so that the guide could conduct a transceiver search from the air. The guide detected a faint signal, indicating that someone was likely buried.

After dropping clients in a safe location and alerting the San Miguel County Sheriff's Office, the Helitrax helicopter returned to the scene to conduct a search with two guides.

The guides followed a transceiver reading to strike the snowboarder's boots with a probe under roughly 6.5 feet of debris and about three feet from the edge of the field.

Four additional rescuers were brought in and it took the six about an hour to dig the snowboarder out of the notably deep debris. The snowboarder was deceased when recovered.

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The Colorado Avalanche Information Center shared several comments about the accident, as they usually do in an effort to prevent a similar situation from happening in the future.

The first aspect of this incident that the organization pointed out was how the rider was traveling alone. This can greatly increase the level of risk a backcountry recreator faces, though the organization also noted that the deceased rider was an "accomplished backcountry snowboarder" that was experienced in traveling solo.

The second aspect of the day that the organization noted was how changing temperatures likely drove the rider off of slopes where persistent slab issues were less prevalent, putting the rider on slopes where an accident was more likely to take place.

The group also noted that it was likely the rider was either climbing or preparing to descend when the avalanche occurred, as he was found without his board and in a base layer.

Terrain features also complicated the situation, causing snow to stack up rather than spread out, as it pushed against terrain at the bottom of the slope. This is one reason the burial was so deep.

Condolences go out to those impacted by this tragic death. Risk is always present in the backcountry and while this snowboarder was clearly experienced, this case highlights the importance of traveling with a partner and shows that accidents can happen to anyone, even on a day when risk isn't extreme.

Though the snowboarder wasn't identified in the CAIC report, other sources have since published that the deceased boarder was 29-year-old Daniel Overton of Telluride.

Find the full report here.

This was the fifth avalanche death of the season and the first involving a snowboarder, with a sixth avalanche death occurring two days later when a skier was killed near Steamboat.

Those entering the backcountry while there's snow on the ground should be sure to check the risk forecast on the Colorado Avalanche Information Center website.

Thanks goes out to Helitrax for their quick response in the rescue and recovery effort.

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(1) comment

Heartinthemountains

Thank you for the extended report following this tragic accident. As someone that knew him I just want to make sure to point out that the correct name to report is Devin Overton. The San Juans are all mourning the loss of a great member of our community and I know the backcountry community is feeling is absence too. ❤️ RIP Devin ❤️

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