Vail, CO Resident Killed in Avalanche in Backcountry Outside Beaver Creek Resort

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Gary Smith, 37. Credit:

On Monday, March 22, 2021, a skier was caught and killed in an avalanche outside of the Beaver Creek Ski Area, CO boundary in an area locally known as Sanctuary Chute, an area accessible by leaving the resort at the top of the Larkspur Express chairlift. The accident occurred below treeline in a steep northwest-facing chute at an elevation of around 10,500 feet. It is not yet known if the area was accessed via Beaver Creek resort.

Avalanche site. Credit: CAIC

The man has been identified as Eagle County local Gary Smith, 37. Smith was an experienced mountaineer, he had skied North America’s highest peak, Denali in Alaska, as well as many remote backcountry lines in Colorado. He worked in a backcountry store in Vail and was a gear reviewer for, reports the Colorado Sun.

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center has written up a preliminary report, and a full report will follow an investigation.

beaver creek, colorado, Larkspur express,
The top of the Larkspur Express, Beaver Creek, CO.

This is Colorado’s 12th avalanche death of the 2020-2021 snow season, and the deadliest since 1992-93 when 12 people were also killed. There have been 35 avalanche deaths in the USA this winter season, the deadliest season since 36 deaths in 2009-10.

The CAIC yesterday reminded people that danger still exists in backcountry areas:

With poor structure still lurking, recent persistent slab and wind slab avalanches, a heartfelt and saddening avalanche fatality, and dribs and drabs of snow, the avalanche danger remains heightened in the Central and Northern Mountains–MODERATE (2 of 5). Our forecast message remains the same regarding shallow, rocky slopes and similarly shallow slopes that have already avalanched previously and are now reloaded. These slopes are suspect for deeper, more life-threatening persistent slab avalanches. They are difficult to identify and signs of instability leading up to an avalanche or an accident will be sparse or non-existent.

Elsewhere, the Steamboat and Grand Mesa zones along with the Southern Mountains are rated LOW (1 of 5). LOW is by no means a “green light” and lee slopes with recently drifted snow could still produce dangerous avalanches especially in steep, committing terrain. Complete this snapshot with the complete avalanche forecast for your chosen zone on our website or on our free mobile app.

avalanche, colorado
Current Colorado forecast (3/23/21). Credit: CAIC

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