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Two skiers die in avalanche near Vallecito Reservoir

Men were declared missing Saturday night and found early Sunday
Two backcountry skiers died in an avalanche Saturday southeast of Vallecito Reservoir. It was one of three avalanche accidents that occurred Saturday in Colorado. (Durango Herald file)

Two backcountry skiers died in an avalanche Saturday near Vallecito Reservoir.

The men left to go skiing at 7 a.m. Saturday south of the reservoir with the intention of returning about noon the same day, according to a news release from La Plata County. But after failing to return, someone notified authorities at 9:18 p.m. that the men were missing.

Deputies with the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office located the victims’ truck on a road at the southern end of the lake.

Meanwhile, Colorado Search and Rescue used cellphone records to locate where the men were likely skiing. Ground crews and a Flight for Life helicopter also initiated a search.

The helicopter crew located ski tracks entering an avalanche debris field but did not see tracks leaving the debris field. Search teams also used a RECCO Detector and avalanche beacon technology in the search.

Ground crews discovered a single ski at 3:06 a.m. Sunday, and both men were later found buried in several feet of snow at 3:36 a.m. The men were wearing full avalanche gear including transceivers at the time of the incident.

Colorado Search and Rescue Association spokeswoman Anna DeBattiste said the men were skiing on a 38-degree slope southeast of the lake on a burn scar.

“Because it was a burn scar, the lack of trees may have been a contributing factor,” DeBattiste said.

Names of the men were not released Sunday pending notification of next of kin. DeBattiste declined to say whether the person who reported the skiers missing was related to them, but she confirmed the person knew of the men’s plan.

“This is one of three avalanche accidents that happened in the state Saturday, and so we're very concerned about the trends we’re seeing,” DeBattiste said.

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center rated the avalanche danger in the region as “moderate” Sunday, but areas above the tree line are rated as “considerable,” DeBattiste said.


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