U.S. Route 6 at Loveland Pass, Colo., elevation 11,990 feet, is closed by… (Karl Gehring, Associated…)
Five snowboarders died in a backcountry avalanche Saturday afternoon about 60 miles west of Denver, authorities said.
A group of six snowboarders started out at Loveland Pass, which is just short of 12,000 feet in elevation, but got no more than a mile down the mountain when the slide swept them away, Clear Creek County Sheriff Don Krueger told the Los Angeles Times.
One snowboarder dug himself out and called for help. The Sheriff’s Office said the call came in around 2 p.m., about an hour after the avalanche.
Colorado Avalanche Information Center forecaster Spencer Logan said there have been weak layers in Colorado's snowpack since early January.
“Our last series of storms made them more active again,” he told the Associated Press. “Over the last week and a half, that area got over 18 inches of snow, so if you melted that, that would be 2 inches of water, so that is a heavy load.”
Krueger said the snowboarders may have inadvertently set off the avalanche. "Apparently, they triggered the slide," he said.
He described the avalanche as about 200 yards wide, 350 yards long and 8 feet deep.
“It was a big slide,” the sheriff said. “I don’t know if they had avalanche beacons or not.”
The six were in the backcountry, in terrain away from established ski trails. Although the practice is discouraged, it is common, Krueger said.
Lisa Clarke Devore, who was headed back to Denver from the nearby Ararpahoe Basin resort, told the Associated Press that she saw a firetruck and ambulance in the pass, as well two search dogs headed into the slide area. She said she saw several ambulances, including one towing snowmobiles, driving toward the pass.
The five who were killed Saturday brought this week's number of avalanche deaths in Colorado to six. A 38-year-old snowboarder died south of Vail Pass on Thursday. Eagle County sheriff's officials said the man and another snowboarder probably triggered that slide after a friend on a snowmobile dropped them off at the top of Avalanche Bowl.
Nationwide, 21 people have died in avalanches this year, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.
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