The man who was killed in the Jan. 13 avalanche near Marble had skied the same terrain earlier that day and the week prior without incident, according to an accident report issued Sunday by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.
James Lindenblatt, 37, of Frisco, who was the sole victim in the fatal avalanche on Marble Peak Ridge in the Raspberry Creek drainage, had skied the same area with a companion on Jan. 6.
He and three other skiers made the decision to ride the terrain on Jan. 13 after several exploratory trips over the preceding seven days, according to the report by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC).
Lindenblatt’s companion who was with him on Jan. 6 and on Jan. 13, had also gone to the area on Jan. 9 with three others for another tour on the same run. The skiers had noted no instability on trips prior to the slide. They felt that if they stayed skier’s right of a gully on the more west and southwest aspects of the slope, they could safely ride the three lines in an area they called “The Cul de Sacs,” according to the CAIC report.
After skinning up the ridge, the group of four agreed to descend one at a time and stay right of the more shaded and wind-loaded northwest facing side. They made one run without incident and skinned back up a ridge for a second descent in Cul de Sac 1.
Lindenblatt ventured furthest left of two of three skiers’ lines who had made the descent before him, taking him closer to the wind-drifted and more northwest facing side of the terrain, according to the CAIC report.
It was that decision that resulted in the triggering of the avalanche, which measured 85 feet wide and 1-foot deep. The CAIC determined that the slide’s destructiveness was a two on a scale of one to five, with one being the smallest.
The area experienced strong southwest winds during a storm that occurred on the night of Jan. 11-12. The weather in the area on Jan. 13 was cold and windy with light snow, witnesses reported. The storm produced between 7 and 10 inches, based on two snow stations nearby.
The snow pack in the area was shallow, and subjected to prolonged dry and cold periods, forming a weak base layer that was buried by the new accumulation. The weaker layer is likely the culprit for the first triggered slide, according to the CAIC. The CAIC team was unable to reach the crown of the avalanche to confirm the exact snowpack structure.
Lindenblatt began his descent at about 2:15 p.m. As he approached a lone tree on the slope where the first skier was acting as the spotter, Lindenblatt made a hard left-turn and triggered a shallow and soft wind slab, the report says.
Riders two and three saw a powder cloud develop and yelled to Lindenblatt to go left in order to get out of the small slide. At that point, Lindenblatt already was turning right and heading into the gully along with the flow of the soft wind slab. He then attempted to make a hard turn back to his left just as the avalanche stepped down to a deeper weak layer near the ground. He appeared to have lost control when the larger avalanche, estimated to be 2 feet deep and 45 feet wide, started and he was swept into the debris. He was carried downhill past two of his companions, who were below the first skier and near a terrain bench that was above a rollover that drops steeply towards Raspberry Creek.
They watched Lindenblatt get carried past the bench, over a steep roll and toward the valley floor — approximately 250 vertical feet. The avalanche, which was triggered at an elevation of 10,600 feet, ran an estimated 1,100 vertical feet to the valley floor.
The three skiers immediately switched their beacons to receive and raced to the valley floor. They picked up a signal quickly and the first skier pinpointed Lindenblatt’s location when his probe hit his boot. They quickly uncovered him in nearly 4 feet of snow. He was found in a supine position with his head facing back up slope. He had no pulse and was not breathing, according to the CAIC report. The group of three skiers estimated that the beacon search, probing and shoveling took five to 10 minutes.
The first skier to descend on that fatal second run made an extraordinary effort to call for help. He took the quickest route, which meant climbing 2,000 vertical feet up Marble Peak Ridge, descending 2,000 feet on the east slopes to Yule Creek Road and eventually making it to Marble. He first went to the fire station but no one was there, so he went a couple of blocks further to Lindenblatt’s cabin where he called 911, an hour and 45 minutes after the avalanche.
The other two skiers were faced with a difficult decision to make — stay with Lindenblatt and face harsh conditions or get out of the valley before temperatures dropped significantly as the sun was setting. The egress out of the valley is very challenging and they needed daylight to make a safe exit, according to the report. They made it out around 6 p.m.
Lindenblatt’s death marked 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.