Lucky solo skier loses a ski but not his life
by Mark Reaman
Red Lady Bowl is probably one of the highest profile backcountry ski runs in Colorado. Sitting above Crested Butte, the access is easy and powder tracks are a constant presence from fall until late spring. It is not unusual for people to watch skiers descend the bowl from the top ridgeline.
It was just such a scenario last weekend that set Crested Butte Search and Rescue’s Mountain Rescue Team into action Sunday morning. According to Search and Rescue’s Rob Weisbaum, a man living in Crested Butte caught the winter crud so was home sick and scoping the bowl from his couch when he watched a skier start down looker’s right of the bowl. He watched as the skier triggered a slide, saw an airbag deploy but then lost site of the skier. He called 911 at about 10:45 a.m.
“The Mountain Rescue team deployed a hasty team right away,” said Weisbaum. “We started watching the bowl and we saw the skier come out by the slide. The guy who called it in also said he saw the skier exit the slide.”
Weisbaum said the team also initiated the Rapid Avalanche Deployment (RAD) team response for the first time this year when the call came in. The specialty RAD team immediately calls in a couple of ski patrollers, an avalanche rescue dog and a rescue helicopter when there is notification of a local avalanche with people possibly being buried. Given Sunday’s weather conditions, the helicopter was called in from Rifle but was sent back before arriving after it was determined there was not a burial.
The hasty team was called down when it was obvious no one was buried. Weisbaum saw another group of skiers in the bowl who met the single skier who had triggered the avalanche. He had lost his skis in the slide but located one and was able to ski down on a single ski. Weisbaum went to the trailhead to meet them and investigate what had happened.
“The man was a very experienced backcountry skier who was skiing alone that morning. He admitted he made a couple of mistakes in that situation,” Weisbaum explained. “He lives on the Front Range but has skied Red Lady dozens of times. He however didn’t check the avalanche warnings that morning so wasn’t aware of the heightened danger on that south/southeast slope. He said he normally looks back on the descent but didn’t bother to that Sunday. So the slide hit him before he saw it. He immediately deployed his airbag and that kept him on the surface for probably 100 yards. He was not injured but was pretty shaken up. He said he had made some poor decisions and was lucky to have this as a learning situation.”
Weisbaum said that if the skier had been buried it would have made for a sketchy rescue, given conditions. “It would have made for a super risky rescue on our part,” he said. “We were all glad he made it out.
“The thing to remember is that even if you’ve skied that bowl 50 or 60 times you can’t get complacent,” Weisbaum emphasized. “Be careful out there at all times. Snow conditions around here change constantly and you have to stay on top of it.”
“It’s a great ending to a very scary situation and we are so glad he is okay,” says Crested Butte Avalanche Center executive director Than Acuff. “Recent bulletins by our forecasters have touted the complexity of our current snowpack and we just ask that people do their due diligence when heading into the mountains. Have fun, stay safe and, as always, let us know what you’re seeing out there so we can keep the conversation going.”