The Colorado Avalanche Information Center is reporting the first avalanche fatality of the season in the state. In a news release, the Center announced the death of a backcountry snowboarder on Monday in Waterfall Creek, south of Ophir near Telluride.
The victim has been identified as 67-year-old Dr. Peter Harrelson, who was reported overdue on Monday evening. According to the news release, a friend of Harrelson went in search of him, following what appeared to be a fresh track up a slope locally known as the “Banker” and observed fresh tracks descending from that point.
Search and rescue teams reached the avalanche site and recovered Harrelson’s body on Tuesday morning. In social media posts, San Miguel County Sheriff's office said Harrelson, a longtime local, had died of traumatic injuries. According to the Montrose Daily Press, the avalanche had carried him between 200 and 300 feet. While he appears to have initially survived the slide, he succumbed to his injuries before rescue teams were able to reach him.
"On behalf of all of us at the Sheriff's Office and our Search and Rescue team, I would like to express our condolences to the family and friends of this gentleman. I'd also like to thank our SAR team for their work in this inherently risky mission," says Sheriff Bill Masters.
Though Harreslon's death is the first in the state for the season, it's the fourth in the country this month, with recent fatalities occurring in Wyoming, Montana and California, where an in-bounds avalanche claimed one life at Palisades Tahoe Ski Resort. According to the CAIC's avalanche forecast, avalanche danger remains at a dangerous level across the Colorado Rockies following a large amount of snowfall in recent weeks.
Last season was particularly grim for avalanches in Colorado, with 11 deaths between October 2022 and April 2023.
If the weather has been unstable, with lots of snow and wild temperature swings, you should assume that the avalanche risk is higher. High winds can also create avalanche conditions.
If you are heading out into the backcountry on a slope that is 30 degrees or steeper, you are always at risk for an avalanche. The biggest step you can take to keep yourself safe is to take an avalanche safety class where you will learn how to recognize unstable snow, techniques for navigating out of an avalanche once you’re in it and knowing how to use an avalanche beacon and shovel.
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Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.