CAIC: Colorado Avalanche Information Center

2012/01/25 - Colorado - Deer Creek Drainage above Montezuma

Published 2012/02/09 by Scott Toepfer - Forecaster, CAIC

Avalanche Details

  • Location: Deer Creek Drainage above Montezuma
  • State: Colorado
  • Date: 2012/01/25
  • Time: 12:30 PM (Estimated)
  • Summary Description: 1 snowboarder caught and carried. Not injured
  • Primary Activity: Backcountry Tourer
  • Primary Travel Mode: Snowboard
  • Location Setting: Backcountry


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


  • Type: HS
  • Trigger: AR - Snowboarder
  • Trigger (subcode): u - An unintentional release
  • Size - Relative to Path: R3
  • Size - Destructive Force: D2
  • Sliding Surface: O - Within Old Snow


  • Slope Aspect: NE
  • Site Elevation: 11800 ft
  • Slope Angle: --
  • Slope Characteristic: Planar Slope

Avalanche Comments

Rider 5 was about one third of the way down slope from the ridge when the avalanche released. The slab failed on an old snow layer but did break to the ground in several locations. The height of the crown face was estimated to be 3 feet deep and 200 feet wide. The avalanche ran approximately 300 vertical feet. The crown did break across several rock features at a point just where the four higher chutes converged into the open face of the path.

Weather Summary

January 25th dawned with fair skies under high pressure. Winds were 15 to 25 mph out of the WNW. Some high clouds pushed into the zone mid-day. A nearby reporting site recorded 8 inches of new snow in the 4 days prior to the avalanche. Winds shifted from the northwest on the 22nd and had been generally southwest to southeast in the teens and twenties gusting into the 40's leading up the event. Temperatures were in the single digits to teens from the 22nd until the 25th.

Snowpack Summary

The winter up until the 25th had been fairly dry with a below average snowpack in this basin. Snow pits from the zone showed a thick layer of depth hoar. A hard slab formed in alpine areas during multiple wind events in January.

Events Leading to the Avalanche

Rider 5 rode a snowmobile up to the ridge from Deer Creek basin. Rider 5 looked at a few options for entrance into the path. Rider 5 chose the widest entrance, furthest south in this complex path.

Accident Summary

Four riders going one at a time jumped off a southern ridge of Glacier Mountain and onto a northeast aspect slope. Rider 1 or 2 was reported triggering small sluffs, but they did not observe any other signs of instability. At least one rider had a hard fall about one third of the way down slope after encountering a hard layer of snow (possibly a wind crust). Rider 5 accessed this same path from Deer Creek and approached the path to look for a route onto the slope. Rider 5 walked around for a bit looking at different entrance possibilities. She opted for the wider entrance to the path, did not jump in, but rode onto the same slope previously ridden by Riders 1 through 4. Within the first ten feet Rider 5 hit a rock (which is about the time that the video starts). Three turns after hitting the rock Rider 5 noticed some cracking and turned to look up-slope. Rider 5 saw a crack open up and then made a move towards a pre-determined escape route about 50 feet further down slope and to the rider's right. Soon after this Rider 5 was knocked off her feet and noticed the snow buckling down slope. At this time Rider 5 realized she was in a bigger slide and thought "I'm caught". Rider 5 then pulled the ripcord on their airbag pack and rode the slide down slope, feet first, in a sitting position. The whole event seemed to "Move surrealy slow" but was probably over in 20 to 30 seconds. Rider 5 stopped in a sitting position with feet down slope, not buried and uninjured.

Rescue Summary

No rescue was necessary as the rider was uninjured and not buried. A snowmobile driver rode up onto the debris and gave Rider 5 a ride back down.


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