A 40-year-old snowboarder was climbing the east face of South Diamond Peak at Cameron Pass. He was wearing snowshoes with his board in his backpack. Once he reached the bench at timberline, he began climbing up the main gully. Two other snowshoers (from Minnesota) were standing on the bench and filming the lone climber with their camcorder. They stopped filming when they thought he had reached the ridge, which happened to be 2 minutes before the avalanche, and they began walking away from the slope. At 11:55 am, the climber triggered a large avalanche when he was about 200 feet below the ridge, and about 40 vertical feet below the fracture line.
The avalanche came down with a large powder cloud and debris filled the bench and flowed over the bench (which is about 400 feet across and slopes gently) into the timber. The debris overran the spot the two snowshoers had been standing on two minutes earlier and stopped a few feet short of where they were standing. Meanwhile Dan Myer of Ft Collins was driving toward the pass and saw the avalanche. He parked and began climbing up the lower track toward the bench and avalanche debris area. He met the two snowshoers, learned someone was in the avalanche, and began a beacon search. He searched for 45 minutes without success. Someone stopped a CDOT truck and the Jackson and Larimer County Sheriffs were notified. The avalanche was just inside the Jackson County line.
Sometime after 3 pm, rescuers saw the tip of a snowboard sticking from the snow and located the victim, who had died. He had been carried about 500 vertical feet down a sustained 37-degree slope, and was buried about 1 foot deep.
The avalanche was classified as HS-AF-3-G (hard slab, triggered by a person on foot, medium size relative to the path, and ran to the ground). The fracture line was 264 yards wide, averaged 2-3 feet deep, and was 5 feet at the deepest point (not 10 feet deep as previously reported and not 500 yards wide). The high point of the fracture was 11,620 feet and the toe of the debris was at 10,860 feet. A smaller avalanche had released, probably on Tuesday Dec 26, just to the south of this one. The east face of Diamond Peak is an active avalanche area, and this is the third avalanche fatality on this slope. The previous ones were on 1/9/93 and 12/14/99.
At the fracture the slab was very hard (1 finger to pencil hardness), 2-3 feet thick, and resting on 6 inches of depth hoar. However, it is very likely that at the point the victim triggered the avalanche, the slab was less hard and the depth hoar layer was deeper.
This accident occurred very close to where a backcountry skier was killed on December 14, 1999. We will post more as details become available.
This photograph was taken several years ago looking to the West at Diamond Peaks. Most of the "face" the area above treeline faces to the Northest. This photograh does not show the avalanches that occurred on 12/14/1999 and on 12/29/2000. Though both slides occurred near the V-shaped gully, just left of the peak.
This photograph (and others on this page) was taken on 12/30/2000 and shows the approximate positions of the victim's last seen area, fracture line and where the victim was recovered. The avalanche continued to the right of the photo. The width was 264 yards and the vertical fall was 760 feet. The victim was carried approximately 500 feet.
This picture is taken from the fracture line looking down about 40 vertical feet to the last seen area. The slope angle in this grassy convex area is 32 degrees but quickly steepens to 37 degrees as the slopes falls away. It is in this spot the slab likely failed under the weight of the victim and failure propagated through weak, faceted snow fracturing the hard slab avalanche.
The fracture line (crown face) was generally 2-3 feet deep but was 5 feet at its deepest.
Williams, 12/30 at 2100hrs. Updated, Atkins, 1/4/01