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Skier Triggers Steep Avalanche Near Vail But Avoids Injury By Holding Onto Tree

EAGLE COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) -- A skier who triggered an avalanche near Vail on Saturday escaped injury by grabbing onto a tree as the slide swept into a gulch and other "high-consequence terrain," the Colorado Avalanche Information Center reported Monday.

The slide occurred northeast of Vail about one mile into the Pitkin Creek drainage from a trailhead near Interstate 70.

Pitkin Avalanche 3 (CAIC)
(credit: Colorado Avalanche Information Center)

The unidentified skier (also identified in a separate CAIC report as a 'rider') launched from near the top of a ridge at 12,000 feet elevation. The slide broke on the steep slope between 11,600 and 11,800 feet elevation, per the CAIC's field report.

"They (sic) made a few turns before the avalanche broke above them and were able to reach a tree island," the report stated. "The skier held onto a tree as the avalanche washed downslope through high-consequence terrain."

Pitkin Avalanche 2 (CAIC)
(credit: Colorado Avalanche Information Center)

The incident was witnessed by other people on the opposite side of the drainage. They said the avalanche slid all the way to the valley floor.

Pitkin Avalanche 1 (CAIC)
(credit: Colorado Avalanche Information Center)

Saturday's slide is relatively unique in that it happened on a northwest-facing slope. The CAIC stresses greater concern for north- and east-facing aspects which become "wind-loaded." Wind-loaded conditions become dangerous when snow repeatedly collects on hillsides when released from westerly winds that crest ridges and summits. Southern and western slopes are generally more windswept and clear of snow accumulation.

The CAIC rated the avalanche danger in the area Saturday as moderate.

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