Men killed in avalanche were raising funds for avalanche awareness

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LOVELAND PASS, Colo. -- It was Colorado's deadliest avalanche in 50 years, and in a tragic twist, the five men who lost their lives buried under eight feet of snow on Loveland Pass were partaking in an event to raise funds for avalanche awareness at the time of their deaths.

The victims were all expert skiers with the latest gear, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, the organization receiving the money being raised over the weekend.

Click here to read more about the victims, Christopher Peters, 32, from Lakewood; Ryan Novack, 33, from Boulder; Joseph Timlin, 32, from Gypsum; Ian Lamphere, 36, from Crested Butte and Rick Gaukel, 33, from Estes Park.

All the elements for an avalanche were in place over the weekend, including deep layers of snow and warmer temperatures combined with the steep terrain the five  men were skiing.

And with more of the same sorts of conditions on the way, it’s important to know about the risks that lie ahead if you go up to ski Colorado’s back country before this year’s ski season comes to an end.

"We were able to locate them went quickly because they had transceivers," Dale Atkins, a member of Alpine Rescue, said regarding the search for the five skiers. "The real challenge was shoveling and digging."

Atkins' account was indicative of the fact that the victims had the right equipment, including Avalungs and transponders. It was also indicative of the fact that an avalanche can strike at any time, catching even the most seasoned skier by surprise.

"This is a very dangerous time where you can travel in the backcountry," Ethan Greene with the Avalanche Information Center said. "Without seeing avalanches, you can hit the right spot and trigger a very big slide.”

And when it comes to opinions on the sorts of gear that’s most important to protect yourselves, there are many varying viewpoints.

“In my opinion, the shovel is the most important piece of gear,” Pinpoint Weather meteorologist and avid backcountry adventurer Chris Tomer said. “All of these sorts of gadgets like the beacon, the poles; that's all after you get caught in an avalanche."

Tomer said having all the right equipment can lead to a false sense of security, and that the idea is to not get caught in one in the first place. Here are four tips for keeping yourself safe.

  • Ask yourself how much new snow has fallen
  • Ask yourself how windy it has been
  • Look around the area for other avalanches that may have recently been triggered
  • If conditions are ripe, stay off the slopes