Sheriff’s office: Skier killed in Saturday avalanche was 49-year-old man from Steamboat

Avalanche death near Steamboat Springs is second this week to happen amid ‘moderate’ conditions

The blue arrow marks the path of an avalanche near the North Fork of the Fish Creek Drainage area on Saturday, March 19, that killed 49-year-old Andrew Hyde of Steamboat Springs.
Colorado Avalanche Information Center/Courtesy.

Avalanche conditions in the Steamboat and Flat Tops region were forecasted as moderate on Saturday, March 19, when a backcountry skier was killed in an avalanche east of Steamboat Springs.

The skier who died after being caught in the slide was identified as Andrew Hyde, 49, of Steamboat Springs by Routt County Undersheriff Doug Scherar on Sunday, March 20.

According to the sheriff’s office, Hyde was found not breathing near a tree, and efforts to perform CPR on him while authorities and Routt County Search and Rescue volunteers arrived were unsuccessful.

A second skier was injured and evacuated by Classic Air Medical on Saturday. Scherar said efforts to recover Hyde were called off Saturday night because of safety concerns working in the area in the dark. Efforts to retrieve Hyde’s body resumed Sunday morning, Scherar said.

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 49-year-old man from Steamboat Springs.
Colorado Avalanche Information Center/Courtesy.

The avalanche happened just after noon Saturday in the drainage area of the North Fork of Fish Creek, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. The slide happened at about 9,800 feet elevation on a northwest-facing slope and was triggered by the skiers.

Avalanche center staff were in the area on Sunday and are expected to release a final report next week.

Avalanche risk is measured on a scale of one to five with moderate being the second-lowest rating. However, a 2006 study found that about half of all avalanche deaths in Colorado occurred when the risk was forecasted as moderate.

That same study found people generally heeded warnings of extreme avalanche risks but were more likely to venture out if the risk level was lower. The Utah Avalanche Information Center has made similar observations, saying that increased fatalities at these levels are because it creates “the maximum interaction between people and avalanches.”

The Utah Avalanche Center notes that the avalanche risk scale is not linear. Risk increases about two fold for each rising level on the danger scale.
Utah Avalanche Center/Courtesy

While the scale is numbered one to five, it is not linear and the risk doubles at each level. This means venturing into the backcountry when the risk is moderate is twice as dangerous as when there is a low risk.

Ian Fowler, a forecaster for the northern mountains for CAIC, said that the snowpack is relatively safer on south-facing slopes, though on warmer days, sinking into wet snow is a sign it is weakening.

He says the safest slopes are those less than 30 degrees where there is not steeper terrain above.

“Don’t let the yellow (moderate) on the danger and the sunshine lull you into steep north and easterly facing terrain where the snowpack is cold and mid winter-like,” Fowler said.

There have been more than 40 avalanches reported across Colorado since Thursday, March 17, when a snowboarder was killed in a slide in the North San Juan Mountain zone in southern Colorado, where conditions were also considered moderate.

Across Colorado this winter, six people have been killed in five different avalanches, according to the avalanche center.

Last year was one of the deadliest in Colorado’s backcountry with 12 people dying in avalanches across the state.

Avalanche conditions are expected to remain moderate to start the week, as the northern mountains will likely add some snow.

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