Man and dogs killed in avalanche near Marble

Avalanches can surprise even in urban settings

[  by Mark Reaman  ]

A 27-year-old Colorado Springs man, along with his two dogs, was killed in an avalanche near Marble on Friday, February 25.

According to Gunnison County sheriff John Gallowich, at approximately 4:48 p.m. on Friday, the Gunnison County Sheriff’s Office was notified of an avalanche that occurred on the Marble Quarry Road with one person missing. A search team conducted a limited search for the missing person with negative results that evening. Due to unforeseen hazards the search was halted and was resumed the following morning.  

At approximately 11:34 a.m. on Saturday, search members reportedly found the missing victim along with his two dogs Kenai and Bea. The victim was identified as Nathaniel Smith, 27, from Colorado Springs. 

According to a sheriff’s office press release, Smith was snowshoeing into a cabin along with three friends when the avalanche broke loose on the four individuals. Three of the individuals survived the avalanche.  

Members of the West Elk Search and Rescue team along with Carbondale EMS and Colorado Avalanche members responded to the area to conduct the search.

The location of the avalanche is outside of the Crested Butte Avalanche Center forecast area but lead forecaster Zach Guy said it still impacts all backcountry users.

“This accident is heartbreaking because I suspect the group wasn’t aware of the avalanche hazards involved with traveling to their cabin near town,” he said. “Like in Marble, our Crested Butte is also surrounded by avalanche terrain and you don’t have to go far from town to get into trouble when conditions are dangerous. In fact, there are a few small avalanche paths near the Nordic Hill and the end of Elk Avenue. There is also quite a bit of avalanche terrain interwoven between homes and condos on Mt. Crested Butte, and of course commuting to and from Irwin Townsite undercuts some serious avalanche terrain.”

Guy said that during that same storm cycle last week, a dogwalker in Crested Butte South narrowly missed getting struck by a large avalanche that put 15 feet of debris on Walrod Gulch Road. “So, although avalanche hazards may not seem relevant if you aren’t out skiing or riding in the backcountry, it is important for all of us, locals and visitors alike, to be aware that there are avalanche hazards in the urban setting,” he emphasized. “During periods of especially dangerous conditions, the kind that we saw last week, we do our best to warn everyone through avalanche warnings, watches, and special advisories that get broadcast through NOAA, along with our usual outlets of website, social media, radio, and email. Stay aware.”

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