A 37-year-old man was killed in a backcountry avalanche outside of Marble on Sunday afternoon, according to the Gunnison County Sheriff’s Office.
Authorities identified the victim as James Lindenblatt, of Summit County. He had worked as asset manager in the county’s road and bridge department.
Three other skiers, who had been out with Lindenblatt and avoided the slide, called the sheriff’s office on Sunday at 4:30 p.m. reporting the avalanche, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC).
Lindenblatt was wearing an avalanche beacon, but his companions were unable to reach him before he died. They told authorities that they had dug him out of the slide, and found him dead before skiing out to report the accident.
They speculated to the sheriff that “the violence of the avalanche” may have killed Lindenblatt, rather than suffocation. The Gunnison coroner has yet to determine a cause of death.
The slide occurred midday on a northwest-facing slope in a regularly skied area below Marble Peak Ridge in the Raspberry Creek drainage, located within the Raggeds Wilderness Area.
The group was skiing the area on their own, not as part of a guided or commercial backcountry tour. The other three already had skied the slope where Lindenblatt went into the slide. As he came down, according to on-site analysis conducted on Monday by the CAIC, Lindenblatt triggered a slide at 10,600 feet elevation and slid down past where his companions were waiting. The slide was 45 to 50 feet wide, and accompanied by a separate 85-foot-wide slide. It ran for about 1,100 vertical feet, stopping in the creek bed.
Lindenblatt had been a Summit County employee since 2004.
“Everybody in the county was very upset to hear the news,” said assistant county manager Scott Vargo. “James will be missed by the organization and by many friends within the county.”
An avid backcountry skier and mountain biker, Lindenblatt was featured in a Dec. 26 entry of the “Outdoor Junkie” blog on gjsentinal.com about skiing the Marble backcountry. He was a frequent competitor in summer mountain biking races around the state, including Blast the Mass in Snowmass Village.
On Monday morning, Crested Butte Search and Rescue joined with Western State Colorado University Rescue Team to recover Lindenblatt’s body. The team included 12 rescuers, according to Crested Butte Search and Rescue president Nicholas Kempin. They called in a helicopter after setting out, due to remaining avalanche danger in the area.
“[T]he entire basin was unstable as well as the immediate location of the body,” reads a report from the sheriff’s office. “This was an incredibly difficult and dangerous mission.”
For much of the day, it remained questionable whether rescuers would be able to make it into the avalanche zone to recover Lindenblatt.
“We have recovered the remains, and everybody made it out safely,” a relieved Gunnison County Undersheriff Randy Barnes said Monday afternoon, shortly after the recovery operation was successfully completed.
Avalanche danger for the Gunnison area was listed as “moderate” on Sunday by the CAIC. The center’s forecast said buried weak layers of snow were a concern, and warned of possible human-triggered avalanches on slopes steeper than 35 degrees.
The slide in which Lindenblatt was caught occurred on about a 40-degree pitch, according to the CAIC.
Snowpack in the area has a deep, weak layer that is prone to human-triggered slides, said CAIC’s Brian McCall.
“We haven’t seen a lot of avalanche activity with that weak layer failing,” said McCall. “But it’s still a problem.”
Sunday’s incident marks Colorado’s second avalanche fatality of the season, following the Dec. 30 slide that killed Snowmass ski patroller Patsy Hileman in a closed area in the Snowmass Ski Area. Hileman was swept off of a cliff by a slide in the Ship’s Prow Glades in the Hanging Valley Wall section of the ski area.
Kempin, of Crested Butte Search and Rescue, pleaded for skiers to use caution when going to areas without avalanche controlled slopes.
“Please, everyone, be careful in the backcountry,” he said.