Copper Mountain Resort, CO reported 10 inches of fresh snow Saturday morning on top of 7″ that had fallen the previous day. Eager powderhounds lined up at the entrance to the Enchanted Forest area waiting for ski patrol to drop the rope, excited to get first tracks in all that deep powder.
Reid Kalmus, an experienced local backcountry skier and snowboarder, told the Summit Daily News he was snowboarding with a friend Saturday morning and decided to join the line of people waiting for the rope to be dropped so they too could enter the Enchanted Forest area. He said there must have been 20 to 25 people ahead of him and a further 15 behind when patrol opened the area. The group traversed above a wind fence around a ridge.
“Everyone was struggling to posthole and wade through the deep snow,” Kalmus said. “That’s what raised my first area of awareness. We kept going forward and people were getting stuck, taking off their snowboards. Finally, this guy in front of me jumped over the wind fence about 20 yards past where the rope was dropped.”
Kalmus followed suit and dropped into the Enchanted Forest terrain.
“I hopped over that fence and the whole floor beneath me just ripped out,” Kalmus said. “I just stood right where I was and watched the whole slope propagate downhill. A lady screamed, and there was a second fracture line 20 to 30 meters above the wind fence.”
Kalmus said he saw three people pushed into the wind fence from the upper slide and partially buried. Thankfully, there was a skier with his backcountry kit present, who was able to begin digging people from the snow. Kalmus estimated there were 40 to 50 skiers and snowboarders present.
No one was injured in the slides.
Copper spokeswoman Taylor Prather said on Sunday that an avalanche occurred in a closed area of the resort and that they had camera footage of a skier entering the closed area. Following further investigation, Copper ski patrol says there were two avalanches: one on open terrain and one on permanently closed terrain.
“At approximately 10:31 am on Saturday, Dec. 14, Copper Mountain Ski Patrol received two calls which reported an avalanche in the area of Lower Enchanted Forest. Ski Patrol responded immediately and followed standard protocol of performing a hasty search, finding no one in need of assistance and no witnesses to provide a statement. The area where ski patrol was dispatched to was located in a permanently closed area of Lower Enchanted Forest,” according to a statement released by Copper officials.
Jack Gallaway provided another firsthand account of the incident via the Summit Daily News.
“I was with a group of friends skiing down Hallelujah Ridge at Copper on Saturday,” Gallaway wrote. “At the bottom of that run, we saw dozens of skiers traversing over to Lower Enchanted, and the sign on the gate was flipped to open.”
Gallaway said he and his group followed the line of skiers in search of “untouched powder,” but once they reached the Lower Enchanted Forest advanced run, he felt conditions were unsafe.
“It became clear to me that the run shouldn’t have been opened, as snow was sliding down from all sides and the run was already peppered with half-buried skiers,” Gallaway wrote.
Copper Mountain is reaching out to the 40-50 people who were in the area at the time of the avalanches for witness statements. Please call patrol headquarters at 970-968-3311.