Three skiers triggered an avalanche on Sunday, March 19, 2023, in Maroon Bowl, near the Aspen Highlands Ski Area, CO. Maroon Bowl is a steep, north-west facing slope near the tree-line elevation band. According to the report by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center’ CAIC,’ the avalanche occurred around 1 p.m. on Sunday and caught two of the skiers and fully buried one of them. The avalanche was approximately 200 feet wide and ran about 2,000 feet.
The Pitkin County Regional Emergency Dispatch Center ’PREDEC’ received a call from the Aspen Highlands Ski Patrol at 1:27 p.m., reporting a large avalanche in Maroon Bowl with three skiers likely caught. Aspen Highlands Ski Patrol had observed the three skiers hiking into the area, watched them ski down, and then witnessed the avalanche from their headquarters on Loge Peak at the top of Aspen Highlands.
Highlands Ski Patrol reported later that only one skier was buried by the avalanche, as the other two skiers contacted them and confirmed they had been able to free themselves. Highlands Ski Patrol told one of the two surviving skiers to hike up to evacuate, while the other skier informed Ski Patrol that he had uncovered the buried skier and had started CPR. According to the Sheriff’s Office, all three skiers caught in the slide had avalanche safety training and were carrying and using avalanche safety equipment.
“PRELIMINARY: Three skiers triggered and were caught in a large avalanche in Maroon Bowl outside of the Aspen Highlands Ski Area on March 19, 2023. One of the riders was killed. Maroon Bowl is a steep northwest-facing slope in the near treeline elevation band. The avalanche broke about 200 feet wide and ran about 2,000 vertical feet.
The Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, Mountain Rescue Aspen, Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control (DFPC), and the Aspen Highlands Ski Patrol were all involved in the rescue.
Our deepest condolences go out to the family and friends of the people involved in this tragic accident. CAIC staff will visit the accident site on Monday, March 20, and we will publish a final report in the next week.”
Due to the remaining avalanche danger, Highlands Ski Patrol could not send patrol to their aid, and instead, Mountain Rescue Aspen’ MRA’ was notified. By 2:15 p.m., rescuers from MRA were on Maroon Creek Road, preparing to enter the field. However, due to the continued avalanche danger, it was decided that air rescue was required. Helicopters from Care Flight of the Rockies, Flight for Life, and the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control (DFPC) were called upon to assist in the rescue. Due to extreme slope angles on the mountainside, Care Flight and Flight for Life could not land near the involved skiers.
At 4:15 p.m., PREDEC confirmed that the uninjured skier had stopped performing CPR on the previously buried skier. At 4:36 p.m., the DFPC helicopter was able to send two MRA rescuers to the location, and they confirmed that the skier was deceased. At 4:45 p.m., the DFPC helicopter retrieved the deceased and uninjured skier and flew them to the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport while the MRA rescuers skied to Maroon Creek Road. The other uninjured skier had successfully hiked back up the mountainside, and patrollers had pulled the individual uphill into a safe area.
The avalanche danger yesterday was rated ‘moderate.’
Authorities have not yet confirmed the skier’s identity who was caught and killed in the avalanche. “The identity of the deceased skier is being withheld pending necessary notifications and the completion of the coroner’s investigation,” the PREDEC press release stated.
The US has seen 19 avalanche-related fatalities this season, with 12 in Canada. Colorado has seen nine of those 19 fatalities, two of those at the weekend.