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Fatal avalanche outside Beaver Creek carried skier over 75-foot cliff

Avalanche just outside Beaver Creek_March 22 2021_CAIC
Posted at 1:20 PM, Mar 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-30 15:21:59-04

EAGLE COUNTY, Colo. — A skier died outside Beaver Creek ski area on March 22 after an avalanche carried him over a 75-foot cliff, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC).

The Eagle County Coroner’s Office identified the victim as 37-year-old Gary Smith. Officials said he was avid skier with experience as a former ski patrolman.

This marks the 12th avalanche-related death in Colorado this season.

CAIC released a report on the incident on Monday.

On March 22, Smith and a fellow sidecountry skier left the Beaver Creek Resort ski area through a permanently closed boundary near the top of the Larkspur Express Lift. When they reached a ridgeline above a chute — known as Sanctuary Chute — they traversed through sparse trees looking for the best place to enter. They assessed the snowpack depth a few times with avalanche probes, according to CAIC’s report.

The snowpack was thin and weak in this area, according to CAIC.

Smith began to descend down the steep, northwest-facing chute and made a few turns before dropping out of view of the other skier. Soon after, the skier at the top of the chute noticed a powder cloud and realized there had been an avalanche, according to CAIC’s report.

The avalanche had broken near the ground along the left, rocky side of the chute. It carried Smith through a narrow gully and over a 75-foot cliff, according to CAIC’s report.

The skier at the top of the chute descended down to search for Smith, staying to the right of his tracks. He triggered a second, small avalanche and was caught, but was able to escape it.

The skier couldn’t find Smith and turned on his avalanche transceiver. He quickly received a signal and located the other man, who was buried under two feet of debris and had died.

The skier called 911 at 2:12 p.m., but didn’t have good cell service, so he began heading back toward the Beaver Creek, according to CAIC’s report.

The Eagle County Sheriff’s Office was able to use his cell phone signal to determine where he was, and alerted Beaver Creek Ski Patrol and the Vail Mountain Rescue Group about the situation.

Beaver Creek Ski Patrol began the rescue at 3:03 p.m. and reached the decease skier around 4 p.m., according to CAIC’s report.

The avalanche ran about 1,000 vertical feet.