Report: Uncommonly weak layer of snow led to fatal avalanche near Steamboat |

Report: Uncommonly weak layer of snow led to fatal avalanche near Steamboat

Area has seen 13 human-triggered avalanches since Feb. 15

A fatal avalanche on March 19 was the result of a soft slab that slid 450 vertical feet in the backcountry, about four miles to the east of Steamboat, according to a report from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

The report noted the layer of snow that broke loose was uncommonly weak for the Park Range mountains around Steamboat, and that it was unusual for there to be such a weak layer that deep in the snowpack this time of year.

The two skiers initially didn’t see signs of unstable snow. When the pair got to a steeper section, Andrew Hyde of Steamboat Springs skied ahead while the other skier waited. After Hyde’s first turn, the “whole slope dropped” and swept him out of sight, the report says.

The report notes that Hyde, who did not survive, was familiar with the planned route, and the other skier was familiar with the day’s avalanche forecast. However, it appears that neither of them was familiar with both, according to the report.

“It is challenging to evaluate snowpack depth and its relation to weak layer distribution,” the report reads. “While it is sometimes possible to identify and avoid potential trigger points, the consequences of being wrong are severe. The best strategy during these periods is to use the avalanche forecast to identify terrain features where this type of avalanche is possible and avoid them.”

About 40% of the total number of human-triggered avalanches in the Steamboat and Flat Tops forecast area this winter have occurred since Feb. 15, and seven of those 13 avalanches happened 10 days or fewer ahead of the fatal slide. The avalanche risk is expected to start the week at considerable. Avalanche conditions are dangerous and backcountry travelers should use caution.

The red square marks the location of an avalanche near the North Fork of the Fish Creek Drainage area on Saturday, March 19, that killed a local skier.
Colorado Avalanche Information Center/Courtesy map

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