CLEAR CREEK COUNTY, Colo. — Loveland Pass reopened Wednesday morning as search and rescue groups continue to investigate if anybody was caught in an avalanche on the pass.
Clear Creek County Sheriff Rick Albers said around 8 a.m. Wednesday, the sheriff's office received a call from a group of people who said they went up to the pass around 6:30 a.m. and saw the avalanche, which had slid before they arrived.
The avalanche occurred on Peak 12479 west of the parking lot at the top of Loveland Pass, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. Alpine Rescue Group, which also responded to the scene and is based in Evergreen, reported that the possible "burial" happened at a place called Idiots (or Idiot's) Cornice on the pass.
Clear Creek County Undersheriff Bruce Snelling said the avalanche was about 600 feet long and several hundred feet wide. The Colorado Avalanche Information Center later confirmed that the avalanche was approximately 300 feet wide, ran about 300 vertical feet, and the crown face ranged from 1 to 3 feet deep. The debris of the avalanche averaged 3 feet deep, but was 9 feet deep in places, according to the CAIC.
The avalanche appeared to be triggered in a rocky section of the slope where the slab was thin, CAIC said.
All of Loveland Pass closed during the first couple hours of the investigation from Montezuma Road near Keystone north to Interstate 70, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation. It reopened around noon.
There was one snowboard track spotted going into the avalanche's path and no visible track exiting the debris. Officials also saw two or three vehicles in the parking lot at the top of Loveland Pass. As of 2 p.m., all the drivers and passengers in those cars have been accounted for.
"But that doesn’t mean somebody didn’t get dropped off here, and when they skied out later that they would come back and pick them up," Albers said.
After an extensive search by search teams — which totaled 25 to 30 people — the scene was called clear and all teams were out of the field by 1:45 p.m., according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.
Several agencies responded to the avalanche, including Summit County rescue groups, Alpine Rescue Group, Clear Creek Sheriff's Office, Clear Creek County Sheriff's Office, Flight for Life, and Loveland Ski Patrol. Two C-RAD validated dogs teams from Loveland Ski Area and Copper Mountain also responded.
According to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, avalanche danger was rated as moderate at and above treeline on Wednesday in the Front Range Zone. The risk of a large to small avalanche happening was "possible," CAIC said. Backcountry travelers could trigger an avalanche on north-, northeast-, and east-facing slopes at higher elevations, where winds drifted snow over a weak layer.
"With the weather that we have had where it snows and then it is nice, and then it builds that ice layer up and it snows on top of them again — that is layering and all you have to do is break that one layer and the snow is going to come down," Albers said.
CAIC recommends carefully evaluating those steep slopes or avoiding them.