Three backcountry skiers who have been missing since Monday are presumed dead after being caught in a Colorado avalanche on Monday.
Search-and-rescue operations were conducted Monday evening and Tuesday, then suspended because of the danger of further avalanches, according to a preliminary report from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. Authorities planned to continue the search Wednesday, but DeAnne Gallegos of the San Juan County Office of Emergency Management categorized the mission to reporters as one of recovery rather than rescue.
The location of the skiers has been determined, Gallegos said, but it was uncertain how deeply they were covered by snow. Although the missing skiers’ have not been revealed by authorities, the Vail Daily reported that the skiers were presumed dead and described them as “well-known Eagle County residents.”
“We are hoping for a successful recovery mission” on Wednesday, Gallegos told the Vail Daily, saying that a storm is expected in the area.
The unidentified skiers were part of a group of seven who were skiing when they triggered the avalanche Monday in an area known as “The Nose,” which lies between the towns of Silverton and Ophir, just south of Telluride in the southwestern part of the state. The Colorado Avalanche Information Center rated the avalanche hazard as “considerable.”
The group was skiing on the northeast-facing slope near the tree line at 11,500 feet. Denver’s NBC affiliate reported that avalanches can easily be triggered on northerly and easterly slopes, even from far away great distance or below.
Ten skiers, snowboarders or snowmobilers have been caught in avalanches in Colorado this season with four fatalities, according to the state information center.
Four of the skiers were fully buried in the avalanche Monday, but the other three were able to rescue one skier, who had only minor injuries. At least one left the group to get cellphone reception and call for help, Gallegos told the New York Times.