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Snowboarder killed in avalanche on Berthoud Pass on Monday

CAIC said this marks the first death of the 2022-2023 season
Berthoud Pass Dec 26 2022 fatal avalanche_CAIC
Posted at 5:28 PM, Dec 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-30 16:52:01-05

UPDATE | Thursday 3:15 p.m. — The snowboarder who died on on Berthoud Pass on Dec. 26 has been identified as Brian Bunnell, according to WDAY6 in News Fargo, North Dakota.


DENVER — A snowboarder was caught and killed in an avalanche on the west side of Berthoud Pass on Monday, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC).

The slope that gave way was east-facing and is locally known as Nitro Chute — which sits around 11,500 feet — near Winter Park. The avalanche began around 1 p.m. near treeline, CAIC said.

CAIC said four people were caught in the avalanche and two were able to stay on the surface. The other two were completely buried. Family and witnesses located both of them using avalanche transceivers. One was breathing when he was uncovered, but the other was not. The latter, a 44-year-old man, died at the scene, according to the Grand County Sheriff's Office. He has not been identified.

Grand County Search and Rescue recovered the man's body before sundown Monday.

CAIC said a snowboarder who was in the area around the same time triggered a similar avalanche earlier in the day.

In addition to CAIC, the Grand County Sheriff’s Office, Grand County EMS, Grand County Search and Rescue, Alpine Search and Rescue, East Grand Fire Department, and Flight For Life responded to the incident.

Denver 7+ Colorado News Latest Headlines | December 26, 5pm

This marks the first death from an avalanche in the 2022-2023 season, according to CAIC's website.

CAIC said it received reports on Monday of other rider-triggered avalanches on steep, east-facing, wind-loaded slopes near treeline. One of those included a large skier-triggered slide on a southeast-facing slope at Loveland Pass.

"This exact aspect and elevation have been the bullseye location for avalanches since the beginning of the month," it reported.

CAIC said the east-facing slopes on Berthoud Pass and other areas were recently wind-loaded and therefore are the most dangerous.

"This is where you can trigger the largest avalanches," CAIC said. "With fresh snow, it's hard to identify which slopes have drifted snow. Avoid steep easterly-facing slopes directly below ridgetop to reduce your risk of avalanches."

On Monday, Berthoud Pass was rated as moderate, or level 2, on CAIC's danger scale, which ranges from 1 to 5. On Tuesday, it will increase to level 3, or considerable danger.

A large storm is moving into the mountains Tuesday evening, but winds — and dry conditions — will push snow onto east-facing slopes before any snow begins to fall. CAIC recommends keeping an eye out for these fresh drifts. By Tuesday evening, some of the snowiest areas of the state will see a rise in danger to level 4, or high, on CAIC's danger scale.

The snowpack along the Front Range and Summit County zones is relatively shallow, with faceted layers only 2 or 3 feet under the surface, CAIC reported.