Berthoud Pass (Front Range)
April 19, 1998

2 snowshoers caught, 1 injured, and 1 killed

Weather Summary

From the 13th the Berthoud Pass Ski Area had received 28 inches of snow including 6 inches on the morning April 19. Strong NW winds on the 12th and again on the 15 caused some blowing snow. Late Saturday afternoon, the day before the accident, winds started to increase from the NW. For the 20 hours before the accident winds averaged NW/20s with gusts into the 30s. At the time of the accident WNW winds at 20 gusts to 35. The temperature had warmed to 21 degrees. (11,880 feet).

Accident Summary

On Sunday afternoon at about 1300 hours two snowshoers were caught in a shallow avalanche on the east-southeast face of Russell Peak, aka Russell Face. The couple had hiked westward from the Berthoud Pass Ski Area to the top of the chairlift and then continued westward toward the Continental Divide. At the top of the "Face" the couple stopped for a break and he removed his snowshoes and stood them up vertically in the snow. A strong gust of wind knocked his snowshoes over the edge, and he went to retrieve it. A short distance below the edge the 28-year old Missouri triggered a small slab avalanche and was swept over a short cliff. He suffered a broken clavicle or collarbone. The 30-year old Denver woman walked to the edge to check on her friend. The couple yelled back and worth a few times; he alerted her that his snowshoes were lost and warned her not to come down. She likely crept just over the edge to better hear her friend when the entire face released. The slab fractured behind the woman in a relatively flat area and swept her over rocks and cliffs. She suffered serious head, neck, and pelvic injuries. She died in a Denver hospital 3 days later.

Avalanche Summary

The couple were caught in a very shallow but broad soft slab avalanche that released the entire face nearly 800 feet across. The avalanche was only 8-12 inches deep, but the cohesive slab pulled back and released on portions of the flatter ridge top. The steep east-southeast face of Russell Peak is 40 degrees in steepness with numerous rock outcrops and cliffs. The avalanche was not triggered by their yells, but rather from one or both of them moving around in the avalanche starting zone. It is possible that the first avalanche triggered the second avalanche, though it did take a minute or two. It is more likely the second avalanche was triggered by the woman moving around at the edge or just over the edge of the steep slope.


Rescuers from Alpine Rescue Team, Berthoud Pass Ski Patrol, and Loveland Ski Patrol participated in the rescue. Flight for Life flew the victim to St. Anthony's hospital where she died from her injuries 3 days later.