CAIC: Colorado Avalanche Information Center

2012/02/13 - Colorado - Contention Fingers, Bear Creek, Telluride

Published 2012/02/18 by Matt Steen - Forecaster, CAIC

Avalanche Details

  • Location: Contention Fingers, Bear Creek, Telluride
  • State: Colorado
  • Date: 2012/02/13
  • Time: 12:00 PM (Estimated)
  • Summary Description: 1 snowboarder caught, buried and killed
  • Primary Activity: Sidecountry Rider
  • Primary Travel Mode: Snowboard
  • Location Setting: Accessed BC from Ski Area


  • Caught: 1
  • Partially Buried, Non-Critical: 0
  • Partially Buried, Critical: 0
  • Fully Buried: 1
  • Injured: 0
  • Killed: 1


  • Type: SS
  • Trigger: AR - Snowboarder
  • Trigger (subcode): u - An unintentional release
  • Size - Relative to Path: R4
  • Size - Destructive Force: D2
  • Sliding Surface: G - At Ground/Ice/Firm


  • Slope Aspect: E
  • Site Elevation: 10300 ft
  • Slope Angle: 38 °
  • Slope Characteristic: Convex Slope

Avalanche Comments

1 snowboarder caught, 1 completely buried and 1 killed.

Weather Summary

In 2011, the Telluride Ski Resort reported 21.5 inches of snowfall in November and 34.3 inches of snowfall in December. On a 37 year average, November was 58% and December 85% of normal for total snowfall. Early January snowfall was nearly nonexistent with only 4.5 inches of snow between the 1st and the 16th. By the end of the month, an additional 44 inches of snow fell at the Telluride Ski Resort ending the month with 114% of normal. February snow storms continued to add an additional 42 inches of snow by the 13th. Total Snow Water Equivalent from the beginning of January to February 13 was 6.03 inches of water.

Snowpack Summary

The early season snow and a dry start to January created a layer of weak faceted snow. Over 7 feet of snow fell on top of this weak foundation between the 16th of January and the 13th of February. The snow that fell during this period formed a dense slab over the preexisting layer of facets. Throughout late January and early February, widespread cracking and collapsing were reported to the avalanche center in the Northern San Juan zone almost daily. On February 14, investigators visited the avalanche site. They did a profile and tests near the entry tracks at the top fracture line. They could not isolate a 30cm by 30cm column to conduct a compression test due to very unstable snow conditions. The isolated column failure was within the bottom portion of the snowpack at 35cm above the ground within the basal facets. Investigators caused few but notable collapses within the snowpack along the descent to the avalanche scene.

Events Leading to the Avalanche

Victim was riding alone. Reports from friend were that he was planning to descend the lower Bear Creek drainage alone. Since there were no witnesses, events leading up to the incident are unclear.

Accident Summary

Snowboarder traveling alone was caught, carried 925 vertical feet, and buried in an avalanche in a backcountry area south of the town of Telluride. Two riders from a different group came upon the avalanche and performed a companion rescue, but the victim was already deceased.

The avalanche occurred in a below treeline area of the Bear Creek drainage, locally know as Contention. The avalanche started in an area to the west of the main gulley known as the Fingers. The start zone has an easterly aspect.

The victim was waring an avalanche airbag and an Avalung. Both were deployed but damaged beyond use in the avalanche.

Media Reports: Telluride Watch Denver Post

Rescue Summary

Rough time estimates indicate that the first of 2 snowboarders were riding in the area came upon the bed surface of the slide within 30 minutes of the avalanche. The first snowboarder (Rider 1) entered the gully where the avalanche had slid and noticed the recent evidence of the avalanche. He continued down the bed surface until he came upon the debris. Rider 1 started a beacon search and quickly identified there was a signal. Rider 2 was below the avalanche debris and had to hike up to the burial site. The two uncovered the victim, who was 3 to 4 feet below the snow surface. Riders 1 and 2 attempted to revive the victim. The patient was non-responsive and without a pulse. Patient was located face up and head down hill.




Image Missing
Figure 24: A snow profile from the crown face.