The bodies of two Wisconsin skiers were discovered on Sunday, killed by a large avalanche which hit Lake County, Colorado on Saturday. This brings a total of six tragic deaths caused by avalanches in the state so far this year, of fifteen suffered nationwide.
According to Lake County Sheriff, Rod Fenske, the skiers had “all the right equipment” and were wearing emergency beacons. Apparently a survivor from the same group of skiers had marked their locations with ski poles to make it easier to locate them.
The dead skiers have been identified as Justin Lentz, 32, and Jarrad Law, 34, good friends from Portage, Wisconsin. They were found near Independence Pass, some 80 miles southwest of Denver.
Fenske said that things just “went bad, went wrong,” adding that of the seven cross-country skiers, many of the group were local, but the two who were killed were from outside the state. Fenske added that he had no idea why the people skied into the avalanche. In fact, according to him, the group may have actually triggered the avalanche.
According to the Lake County Office of Emergency Management, the avalanche was reported at about 7 p.m. on Saturday and that seven skiers at the top of the ridge had activated it.
Despite bad cellphone reception in the area, one group member was able to contact emergency responders. Another marked the position of the two dead skiers with skis.
Of the group of seven affected by the Colorado avalanche, the two Wisconsin skiers were killed and three others had to be taken to a hospital in Leadville, Colorado. These three were suffering injuries including a broken ankle, possible rib breakage, broken leg and a collapsed lung. One skier was released from hospital on Sunday and the others had to be moved to other hospitals due to the nature of their injuries.
According to Lentz’s father, Robert Lentz, his son has been skiing since the age of five or six years. Lentz added that his son was “a good kid,” was engaged to be married and worked as an electrician.
A friend, Joey Kindred, told the media that Lentz and Law often went mountain biking, skiing and snowboarding together.
Law was an Information Technology expert at the Necedah Area School District. Superintendent Larry Gierach said that Law had great people skills and was an “integral part “ of their technology planning. Gierach added that the staff thought of Law as a friend first, and secondly as a professional.
The Forest Service National Avalanche Center is warning that the risk of avalanches has been very high in the West due to heavy snow falling in what has been a relatively dry winter.
The center has warned of dangerous and “unusual conditions” in the Rocky Mountains. These are apparently weak layers under the surface of the snow-pack, which with rapid warming and high winds can lead to “unusual and surprising avalanches.”
Their advisory said that the area is seeing very dangerous conditions all the way from the New Mexico border through to Wyoming. They say that the list of problems is long including avalanches taking out mine buildings that have been standing for decades, along with old trees. The debris then buries roadways as it heads down the hillsides.
The center has various suggestions and tips for skiers in the area, which can be seen on their website (link included below).
Speaking of the current avalanches, the advisory says that these are very obvious clues that conditions are not good across the back country and that what is being seen is a snow-pack which is “teetering on the edge of critical mass.” With the latest Colorado avalanche, which has killed the two Wisconsin men, more care must be taken by skiers this winter.
By Anne Sewell