Skiers 'lucky to be alive' after massive avalanche

By Troy Hooper
Real AspenApril 3, 2011
A major avalanche came crashing down a north-facing aspect on Independence Pass on Saturday.

A trio of skiers triggered the slide and are "lucky to be alive," according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

The backcountry avalanche reportedly ran more than 2,000 feet, crossing and covering Highway 82, which is currently closed for the season. The slide "fractured all the way across the face, and propagated all the way down to the ground on old rotten facets," the Colorado Avalanche Information Center reported.

It was described as a "very, very, very large and destructive class 5 avalanche," according to the center, and forceful enough to theoretically destroy a railway car, large truck, several buildings, or a substantial amount of forest.

The crown of the slide was estimated to be between 2 and 10 feet deep.

The weather at the time was about 30 degrees, with mostly clear skies and an inch of new snow.

"Similar avalanches have been triggered on northwest to northeast aspects near or just above treeline throughout the state," Brian McCall of the avalanche center wrote. "These have usually occurred in areas with a shallow snowpack. In our region, the terrain around Ashcroft and Independence Pass is the most suspect for these large triggered avalanches due to shallow and weaker snowpack with more problematic facets in the lower snowpack."

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center had rated the danger as moderate for Saturday.

Avalanche danger in the Aspen area on Sunday was high for slopes facing north through east through southeast above treeline. All other aspects in the area will see considerable avalanche danger, according to the CAIC.
A destructive avalanche on Independence Pass ran down to the road Saturday.
Photo via Tess Weaver's Twitter account.
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