Industry reflects on Colorado avalanche that kills five, several of their own

Colorado's deadliest avalanche in 50 years kills five people, including industry reps and guides. Conversation on winter safety heightens.
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Last weekend's avalanche in Colorado not only was the deadliest in the state since 1962, it also killed several industry reps and guides — saddening hearts and heightening the conversation within outdoor circles of winter safety.

The April 25 incident near Loveland Pass, just outside the ski area, involved five splitboarders and one skier, all fully equipped with avalanche safety gear (beacons, shovels, probes), including some with airbags.

Initial reports say the men were skinning up the mountain when the avalanche released from above, leaving little time to react. Five were killed, one survived.

Denver Post reporter, and frequent SNEWS/O.R. Daily contributor, Jason Blevins has been tracking the story with eyewitness accounts and recounts of an avalanche that turned a “mellow day into a desperate dig for life.”

Those killed include Joe Timlin, 32, who served as a Rocky Mountain region sales manager for several snowboard brands. He helped organize the Rocky Mountain High Backcountry Gathering event, which had people on the mountain that day to demo product and promote backcountry safety. Proceeds benefited the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, which had listed the area’s avalanche danger as “considerable," which lies above its "moderate" rating, but below its “high” and “extreme” warnings.

“Joe’s No. 1 intention for this event was safety and the wellbeing of all of the participants,” Mike Bennett, a friend of Timlin and one the first to the scene, told the Denver Post. “He had organized it well, and made sure that other people in the group read the avalanche report that morning, and chose conservative routes of travel. There is no doubt in my mind that this was exactly what the group was trying to accomplish. Nobody was out there for an adrenaline rush, or getting ‘extreme.’”

Ian Lanphere, 36, is another familiar industry name that perished in the accident. He founded Gecko Climbing Skins, based in Crested Butte, Colo., and was a co-founder of Backcountry TV and the Stowe Mountain film festival.

Ian Lanphere

Ian Lanphere at the SIA Snow Show earlier this year.

Also killed were Rick Gaukel, 33, a mountaineering guide and wilderness first responder, Ryan Novak, 33, and Christopher Peters, 32 -- all from Colorado.

Jerome Boulay, a sales manager for Silverton, Colo.-based Venture Snowboards, was the sole survivor from the group, after being dug out and rescued by Bennett and others.

The five killed bring the total U.S. avalanche fatality count this season to 24, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. Eleven of those deaths have been in Colorado, where a barrage of heavy spring snowfalls has settled over weaker layers. Last season, 34 avalanche deaths were reported in the United States.

This most recent incident, similar to the Stevens Pass avalanche in Washington a year ago, is gaining media attention and turning focus toward the roles of human behavior, wintersports gear and marketing. SNEWS contributor Peter Kray addressed some of those growing concerns in an O.R. Daily story earlier this year.

Lou Dawson of WildSnow.com, a backcountry skiing blog, provided some early analysis of Loveland Pass avalanche and what lessons might be learned.

“Let’s take a look in the mirror,” he wrote. “We owe that to our friends and loved ones.”

 --David Clucas

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