Full report released about Pumphouse Lake avalanche that killed 2 snowmobilers

Kyle McCabe
Sky-Hi News
Looking across at the east face of Mount Epworth. Pumphouse lake is the flat area at the bottom of the image. Rescuers estimated that the avalanche debris was up to 15 feet deep where the slope flattens onto the lake ice.
Colorado Avalanche Information Center/Courtesy photo

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center released its final report Saturday, Jan. 14, about an avalanche that killed two snowmobilers east of Winter Park near Pumphouse Lake on Jan. 7. The report provides more detail about the accident and rescue efforts.

The report states three snowmobilers were riding in an area southwest of Rollins Pass above Pumphouse Lake when one of them got stuck around 2 p.m. The second rider went over to help, but as he walked towards the first rider, the avalanche released. The third rider, watching from the lake, saw the other riders disappear in the slide’s debris.

The first rider had ridden in the area many times and had an avalanche probe pole. The first and third riders had avalanche transceivers, and all three had shovels. The report read that the group was unaware of the avalanche danger rating that day.

After searching for his friends using his transceiver, the third rider rode up a ridge to get cell reception and called 911. The 911 dispatcher initiated a response and had a Grand County Search and Rescue member call the rider to give advice for continuing his search. The rider struggled with his transceiver and gave up on using it. He started digging around the partially buried snowmobiles and stepped into slushy snow, getting his leg stuck.

Another snowmobiling group participating in an avalanche safety course arrived around 2:45 p.m., and nine riders started helping the third rider search for the other two. The group helped the third rider free his leg and use his transceiver. They found a signal after a few minutes. They dug the first rider out of 2-3 feet of debris and found him face down and unresponsive in the lake.

Grand County Search and Rescue and sheriff’s deputies arrived around 3:10 p.m., extracted the first rider and performed CPR on him for 45 minutes. They searched with the group until darkness, blowing snow and poor visibility made them suspend the search. 

The next day, search and rescue, sheriff’s deputies, personnel from Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, forecasters from the avalanche information center, two Winter Park avalanche dog teams and RECCO detectors restarted the search. The RECCO operator detected a signal, and the team found the second rider fully submerged in the lake beneath about 2 feet of avalanche debris.

The three snowmobilers did not have formal avalanche training, according to the report.

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