As the winter season winds down, we find ourselves facing the harsh realities of a mountain town again. Crested Butte lost two community members in the tragic avalanche in Sheep Creek off of Loveland Pass last Saturday, April 20th. Ian Lamphere and Ryan Novak were among 5 dead, including Rick Gaukel of Estes Park, Chris Peters of Lakewood, and Joe Timlin of Gypsum. The sole survivor of the group of 6, Jerome Boulay, also resides in Crested Butte.
This is the deadliest avalanche in Colorado since 1962 and the deadliest ever in Colorado involving backcountry enthusiasts. According to the CAIC report, the crown averaged 5′ (from 1′ to 12′), the slide was 800′ wide and ran 600 vertical feet. The group triggered the slide low in the slide path while they were skinning only a few hundred yards from their departure point. Before they triggered the slide, the group separated themselves by 50′ intervals to try and mitigate the hazard as they made their way towards a tree island, an intended safe spot. After 2 members of the party reached the tree island, the group triggered a large collapse which ran uphill and triggered a deep slab that buried all of the party.
Jerome Boulay was traveling 3rd in the group when the avalanche hit. He was buried with his left arm partially free and his face close to the surface. Boulay was luckily able to clear the snow from his face, but was stranded for approximately 4 hours in this position until rescuers arrived to the scene. Sadly, Boulay had been buried essentially touching 2 other victims.
While we can criticize the decisions made and be sure to learn from the accident, we are still left reeling from the loss of two friends in our tight-knit community. Ryan Novak, a long-time employee of the Colorado Boarder is described as “genuine, beautiful, creative, engaging, soft-spoken, and confident” by his friends in his obituary in the Crested Butte News. Genuine is the adjective that really sticks with me. There aren’t many people who are guaranteed to make you smile like Ryan Novak can.
Ian Lamphere, founder of Gecko Climbing Skins, was a long-time ski industry professional who ran the company with his fiancée, Elizabeth out of Crested Butte. Ian was about anything other than himself, he co-founded the Stowe Mountain Film Festival and was honored as Volunteer of the Year in 2009 by the Vermont Ski Museum. Ian leaves behind a young daughter, Madelyn. Please visit the IndieGogo campaign that has been set-up to help Elizabeth and Madelyn move on with the costs of travel and burial.
Please make sure to read the full CAIC report. As our small town keeps rolling with the punches, we have to learn from the mistakes our friends have made. We also need to be there for each other as we move forward with our lives. Ryan and Ian will always be with us as we continue to push ourselves looking for whatever we are looking for out there in the backcountry. Even though this is a terrible loss, there is no place I’d rather be and there is nobody other than this extended family of friends here in Crested Butte that I would rather rely on to help myself through this kind of thing. Lots of love to everyone.