A 48-year old backcountry guide leading a group of skiers near Jones Pass, west of Berthoud Pass, Colorado died in one of the more than 30 slides reported in Colorado’s high country on Thursday. Hans Berg, from Empire, CO and an employee of Powder Addiction, was caught, buried, and killed in an area where the avalanche risk was high. The warning advised people to avoid traveling in, near and below avalanche terrain.
“This is scary stuff. Avalanches are running bigger than many (of) us have seen in our careers,” the Colorado Avalanche Information Center posted on Instagram. “This is not the time to try to outsmart Mother Nature.”
Clear Creek Undersheriff Bruce Snelling said that Berg was working as a photographer on Thursday when he was dropped off below a group to get some photos and got caught in a massive avalanche triggered by two nonguided skiers on a dangerous slope above its guided group. Employees and skiers helped rescue Berg from the snow and was taken to a metro area hospital where he, unfortunately, succumbed to his injuries.
“This was truly just a tragic accident,” Snelling said.
In response to comments on their Facebook page questioning why the company was still operating tours when the avalanche danger was so high, they responded:
“The Powder Addiction group was skiing in accordance with standard operation procedures in a well-known and frequently skied area,” the Facebook post says. “The Powder Addiction family is distraught by Hans’ passing. Our thoughts and prayers are with Hans’ family and friends during this heartbreaking time.”
Powder Addiction is a company that offers guided backcountry skiing and boarding tours via snowcats in the area by the Jones and Berthoud passes. They have a great track record in the county having never had any issues or reported accidents in the past.
CAIC classified the slide that killed Berg as a 4 on a scale of 5 for its size, width, and destructive force. Slides of similar size and power were reported Thursday near Copper, Leadville, the West Elks and near Twin Lakes.
At the time of writing, there had been an unprecedented 226 reported avalanches, both natural and triggered for mitigation, in the past week, CAIC said. Thursday was the first time that four backcountry zones — Vail and Summit County, Sawatch, Aspen, and Gunnison — were rated as extreme danger since the avalanche center began its 10-zone forecast 12 years ago.
Berg’s death is the second avalanche fatality in Colorado this week and the seventh this year. Scott Spencer, 53, was killed in a slide last Sunday near Telluride.