With winter well underway across the West, backcountry skiers, snowboarders and snowmobilers are taking to the mountains to enjoy the fresh snow that blanketed much of the region since the holidays.
Avalanches followed, and since Friday there have been at least 12 reported human-triggered slides in Colorado alone, according to the state’s avalanche center, and a number of other slides reported in bordering states including Utah.
That includes one slide caught on video that nearly killed a Wyoming snowmobiler, and one that tragically killed two snowshoers and their dog in Colorado’s Hoosier Pass.
The Colorado slide marked the eighth death from an avalanche in the U.S. this winter, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, which tracks national avalanche fatalities.
Colorado avalanche kills two snowshoers, dog
Two snowshoers and their dog were killed in an avalanche in Colorado’s Hoosier Pass just south of the resort town of Breckenridge on Saturday.
The snowshoers were reported overdue after heading into the mountains, and search and rescue crews were deployed.
Rescue crews “found a recent avalanche and a faint track in an area of interest on a flank of North Star Mountain. An avalanche rescue dog located both snowshoers and their dog, all of whom were completely buried by avalanche debris. All three were deceased,” the preliminary report from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center reads.
The avalanche was roughly 400 feet wide and ran about 250 vertical feet down the slope. The identity of the victims has not yet been released.
It’s Colorado’s second third avalanche fatalities of the season. On Christmas eve, a Fort Collins man was killed near Cameron Pass near Rocky Mountain National Park.
Wyoming snowmobiler nearly killed in avalanche
Terrifying video out of Wyoming shows the moment snowmobiler John Sievers was caught, carried and partially buried in an avalanche during what he calls the “scariest experience of my life.”
Filmed just two days into the new year, Sievers was snowmobiling outside of Jackson, Wyoming, with Jason Rubio who caught the slide on video.
Rubio is watching as Sievers rides across a basin and up towards a ridge through a cut of trees. That’s when Sievers’ snowmobile, at this point a black speck in the video, can be seen tumbling down the slope before his engine cuts out.
Rubio then hastily follows Sievers’ tracks up towards a cluster of trees where he’s buried, jumps off his snowmobile and starts digging Sievers out by hand. At this point, only Sievers’ arm is visible.
Rubio frantically digs out the snow around Sievers’ head pulling off his helmet as his friend gasps for air.
“That’s not a good feeling,” Sievers says, with all but his head and arm still buried under the debris.
The two then fist bump as an exhausted Rubio goes to turn off his helmet camera.
“Thank God Jason Rubio was right there definitely could’ve been a different ending. I’m very thankful to walk away from this,” Sievers wrote on his Facebook page.
Before the camera cuts out, Sievers, still mostly buried, can be heard telling Rubio that he tried to activate his avalanche airbag, but it didn’t deploy.
Relatively new to the backcountry scene, avalanche airbags are integrated into certain backpacks and designed to keep skiers, snowboarders or snowmobilers on top of moving debris. In the event of an avalanche, the user is supposed to pull the cable located on the strap of the backpack, and the airbag will rapidly inflate.
However, user error can sometimes factor into whether the airbag can properly deploy, and Sievers later posted on his Facebook that he “didn’t attach the trigger cable correctly.”
“Please make sure you take the time to install your canisters completely and correctly,” he wrote. “Learn from my simple mistake that almost cost me my life.”
In 2019, skiers in southwest Colorado’s San Juan Mountains were caught in an avalanche while taking an advanced backcountry safety course. Two skiers were wearing airbags, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, but neither were deployed. One of the skiers, Paul Marshall, was killed in the slide. His family is now suing K2 Sports and its company Backcountry Access which made the backpack, alleging it was defective.
The report would later find the surviving skier, like Sievers, “assembled the trigger mechanism incorrectly.” The report cites a study on airbag effectiveness that found that “60% of non-inflations were due to users not triggering the bag, and 12% of non-inflations were due to user error like mis-assembly.”
“I hope that my experience is able to reach people like me that think it can’t happen to them and show them that it can and will!” Sievers wrote.