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Avalanche Victim Went Over Waterfall, Danger Remains Very High

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) - Avalanche danger is a real concern in the high country, especially with the warming temperatures.

There were two snow slides just this past weekend. One occurred on Buffalo Mountain in Summit County that injured a man, and the other on Loveland Pass.

Search and rescue crews say the man caught in the slide on Buffalo Mountain is lucky to have survived. He fell more than 75 feet over a waterfall while being pushed by a wall of thick, wet snow.

"These wet avalanches that we are seeing this month in May have a lot of mass behind them. It's wet snow, so it's got 'oomph' when it hits something," said Scott Toepfer, Colorado Avalanche Information Center forecaster.

LINK: Colorado Avalanche Information Center

With temperatures in the upper 60s and the sun shining, a group of experienced back country skiers set out to ride Buffalo Mountain Sunday. What they didn't realize is just how dangerous the backcountry is right now.

"We had six very incredibly lucky skiers I guess today. Unfortunately one did get caught in a slide. It was a point release wet slab slide," Mark Watson with the Summit County Sheriff's Office said.

Summit County Search and Rescue crews got the call for help. It took 12 hours and the help of a Flight for Life helicopter to locate and bring the injured skier off the mountain.

avalanche rescue
An image from the rescue (credit: Summit County Search and Rescue)

"The terrain was extreme. Lot of rocks, steep terrain and al lot of trees," Watson said.

He has a broken knee, but rescuers say it could have been much worse.

"It was a waterfall, lot of flowing water, lot of wet snow, very lucky individual," Watson said.

Statewide, forecasters with the CAIC say the late season slide danger is increasing as temperatures continue to rise.

"(It's) been a really busy May. We've had well over 260 avalanches reported to us so far just this month," Toepfer said.

(credit: CBS)

"With that amount of snow this late in the season it's definitely tempting, but with the weather change, warm weather, a lot of wet snow, a lot of water running under us, it is definitely very dangerous right now," Watson said.

As more people venture out into the back country, rescue crews are bracing for the potential of more calls for help.

"Especially If the weather patterns continue kind of wet, we could see avalanches running well into June this year. June could be pretty busy," Toepfer said.

Crews on Loveland Pass say the slide there Sunday hit a car, pushing it off the highway. The road was closed for several hours as they cleaned up and recovered the car. Luckily nobody was hurt in that avalanche.


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