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Two avalanche deaths after slide on Muddy Pass

February 17, 2020, 8:29 am
ECSO photo of recovery efforts.

Three motorized snowbike riders were caught in an avalanche on Muddy Pass east of Red and White Mountain in Eagle County on Saturday. One rider was able to extricate himself and go for help but the other two men, both from Gypsum, were swept into a gully and died.

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center, which has a report on the incident on its website, has rated the avalanche danger as “considerable” on Monday morning, meaning dangerous avalanche conditions exist throughout the Vail and Summit County area, with “cautious route-finding and conservative decision-making essential.”

Here’s Sunday’s update on Saturday’s fatal avalanche from the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office:

Today’s recovery efforts on Muddy Pass were successful. Search and rescue teams were able to locate the two victims in yesterday’s avalanche. The Eagle County Coroner’s Office has identified the victims as Dillon Block, age 28 of Gypsum, CO. and Cesar Almanza-Hernandez, age 30 of Gypsum, CO. “We are so appreciative for of the volunteers with Vail Mountain Rescue Group who worked on this very tragic incident, our thoughts are with the families and friends of Mr. Block and Mr. Almanza-Hernandez, stated Eagle County Sheriff James Van Beek.

The Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, Vail Mountain Rescue Group, Eagle County Coroner’s Office, Colorado Avalanche Information Center, United States Forest Service, the Vail Public Safety Communications Center and several local citizens assisted in the search and recovery efforts of this incident.

On Saturday, February 15, 2020 at approximately 4:45 p.m. the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office received a report of an avalanche in the area of Muddy Pass North of Vail, CO.

At this time it appears that a group of three individuals snowmobiling in the backcountry may have triggered the avalanche. One individual was able to free himself and contacted authorities. Currently, there is an active search and recovery mission underway for the other two individuals involved.

There are several agencies working collaboratively on this incident. Snowstorms pile up one after the other all winter long. Wind blows snow off of some slopes and on to others. Temperature changes cause snow crystals to metamorphose. If the snow’s consistency remains constant, the snowpack is homogenous and stable. It’s when the snowpack develops different layers of different snow types that it becomes unstable and hazardous. It is extremely important for the backcountry traveler (especially on slopes between 30 and 45 degrees) to take the time to analyze the layers of the snowpack and test their stability.

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