CAIC: Colorado Avalanche Information Center

2019/01/21 - Colorado - Battleship, southeast of Ophir Pass

Published 2019/02/07 by Jeff Davis - Forecaster, CAIC

Avalanche Details

  • Location: Battleship, southeast of Ophir Pass
  • State: Colorado
  • Date: 2019/01/21
  • Time: 12:00 PM (Estimated)
  • Summary Description: 2 skiers caught, 1 partially buried, 1 fully buried
  • Primary Activity: Backcountry Tourer
  • Primary Travel Mode: Ski


  • Caught: 0
  • Fully Buried: 1
  • Injured: 0
  • Killed: 0


  • Type: SS
  • Trigger: N - Natural
  • Trigger (subcode): --
  • Size - Relative to Path: R3
  • Size - Destructive Force: D2
  • Sliding Surface: I - New/Old Interface


  • Slope Aspect: NW
  • Site Elevation: 11300 ft
  • Slope Angle: 27 °
  • Slope Characteristic: Planar Slope

Accident Summary

Two backcountry skiers arrived at Ophir Pass Road northwest of Silverton at approximately 10:30 AM. Their plan was to tour and ski lower angle terrain below an alpine bowl north of Point 12442, locally known as the Battleship. Skier 1 was very familiar with the area and had skied the area multiple times in the previous month. He knew about the significant natural avalanche cycle that occurred earlier in the week. Skier 2 had never skied in this area. This was the first time the two had gone on a backcountry tour together.

Snow and wind increased on the day of the accident. Visibility decreased to around 500 feet. Winds shifted from the south to the southwest, wind speeds above treeline were 30 mph and increased to 50 mph through the day.

The two skiers traveled up Ophir Pass Road for about one mile before descending a south-facing slope into Mineral Creek. From the bottom of the drainage they climbed east towards the Battleship. They quickly encountered debris from natural avalanches that ran on January 18, 2019. They used the debris as a "safe route" and discussed how traveling on the debris made them feel comfortable, thinking a majority of the overhead hazard was gone. The two skiers ascended the debris pile along the east side of the avalanche path. Their goal was a large stand of trees around 11,400 feet on the east side of the bowl. About 10 minutes before the avalanche Skier 1 noted an increase in the wind speed and a change in the wind direction. Skier 1 mentioned that snow was now blowing straight down the slope and they should descend soon.

Skier 1 was about 50 feet from the stand of trees and about 20 feet ahead of Skier 2. They were on a northwest-facing, 25-27 degree slope. Skier 1 paused and then saw the avalanche coming at them from his left. Skier 1 yelled “hey, hey” but they were engulfed in the slide before his second "hey".

The avalanche initiated on a steep, west-facing slope above them. The avalanche initiated naturally, was medium-sized relative to the path, and large enough to bury, injure or kill a person (SS-N-R3D2-I). The crown was about 140 feet wide and the avalanche ran approximately 2,500 vertical feet.

Both skiers described a violent ride--seeing dark, snow in their mouths, and getting tumbled. When Skier 1 stopped, he had an arm out of the snow, but was then fully buried by a second wave of snow. When the debris stopped Skier 2 was buried to her chest. Skier 2 took out her shovel and dug herself out. After she extracted herself for the snow, Skier 2 began her transceiver search. She got a signal of 44 meters as soon as she turned her beacon into search mode. Since Skier 1 had been uphill, she moved uphill and lost the signal. She turned around and started working downhill. Once she picked the signal up again, she quickly followed it to a lowest  reading of 2.7 meters. Skier 2 began probing, but her probe came apart as she pulled it from the snow. She started shoveling without a probe strike and quickly uncovered Skier 1's backpack. The lettering on the backpack helped her orient Skier 1, and she dug towards his head.

Skier 1 was buried face down, head downhill. He was unconscious, not breathing, had a gray/blue pigmented skin tone, and had a carotid pulse. Skier 2 continued to excavate Skier 1, working to remove the snow around his chest. She cut his backpack off in preparation for CPR. Skier 2 heard Skier 1 take a long slow breath as she continued to dig. By the time Skier 1 was fully uncovered, he was breathing and able to sit up on his own. Skier 2 asked Skier 1 where he was and what was going on, and he gave appropriate answers. Skier 1 was buried approximately 1.5 meters deep.

Skier 2 retrieved her equipment and Skier 1 started walking downhill. They followed their skin track back towards US 550. It took approximately four and a half hours for them to reach the parking area. Skier 1 was uninjured in the avalanche. Skier 2 sustained a mild neck injury from the event.