Jerome Boulay was buried in snow for hours but survived deadliest avalanche in fifty years

jerome boulay 205x205.jpg
Jerome Boulay.
Earlier this week, we shared the shocking news of an avalanche near Loveland Pass that killed five people taking part in a fundraising event for the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, with a sixth, Jerome Boulay, somehow surviving after being buried in the snow for four hours. Now, the CAIC has released its complete report on the tragedy (see it below, along with photos and videos), which details how the backcountry sextet's thoughtfulness and experience was overwhelmed by the savagery of nature.

As we've reported, the Saturday slide took place in the Sheep Creek area near Loveland Pass -- approximate elevation, 12,000 feet. Here's a look at the area, complete with the info center's caption:

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Colorado Avalanche Information Center
Figure 1: Approximate outline of the avalanche, looking south. Data courtesy Dale Atkins.
The group caught in the avalanche included Joe Timlin, who lived in Gypsum, Rick Gaukel, from Estes Park; Boulder's Ryan Novack; Lakewood's Christopher Peters, plus Ian Lamphere and Boulay, both from Crested Butte.

Timlin was the man behind the Rocky Mountain High Backcountry gathering, slated for April 19 and 20. Here's a graphic from its Facebook events page.

rocky mountain high backcountry gathering.jpg
The CAIC report notes that April storms had created an avalanche cycle of the "persistent slab" type -- meaning slides involving slabs of old snow underneath the newly fallen white stuff. A number of them, including the one on Saturday, ran on north-facing slopes with grades of 32-42 degrees near treeline elevation bands, and all were triggered low in the start zone, the CAIC points out.

On the morning of April 20, participants of the gathering met in the parking lot of the Loveland ski area, with smaller groups leaving between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. for what the CAIC describes as short backcountry tours, after which they planned to meet back in the parking lot that afternoon.

As for the Timlin group, the six left the lot shortly before 10 a.m. and headed toward Loveland Pass on U.S. Highway 6 with the intention of doing an hour-long tour of the Sheep Creek drainage area. Together, they read the latest CAIC avalanche bulletin and decided that the safest route would be to travel from the upper-most switchback, known as Scotty's Corner, on an old summer road, and then cross the Sheep Creek drainage gully before ascending a few hundred vertical feet onto the northwest-facing slopes of Mount Sniktau.

"They aimed to avoid the more north-facing slopes which they recognized as a threat, by crossing well below the start zone, in the runout zone, to reach what they deemed safer terrain," the report states. Four of the men had splitboard snowboards, with one using approach skis and the other employing standard skis.

The men went into climbing mode to travel the few hundred yards from the highway to the old summer road. Then, the CAIC account continues, they separated, leaving a gap of approximately fifty feet between each person, while crossing below the north-facing slopes en route to a small stand of trees on a small knoll near the northeast side of the open slopes. The first two reached the trees, with the other four not far behind them, when they heard a sound the CAIC characterizes as a "whumpf." Within seconds, a crack that developed released a deep slab that sent them running for the trees. But the size and scope of the slide -- it was 800 feet wide, with crown depths of between one feet and twelve feet -- soon overwhelmed them.

Here's a video of the slide area:

How did Boulay survive?

Continue for more about the Loveland Pass-area avalanche, including more photos, another video and the complete report.


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