OPHIR, COLORADO – In a somber reminder of the perils of backcountry snowboarding, Colorado has recorded its first avalanche fatality of the season. The Colorado Sun reports that Dr. Peter Harrelson, a 67-year-old longtime resident of Ophir, tragically lost his life in an avalanche on Monday in the San Juan Mountains.
Harrelson, an experienced backcountry snowboarder, was caught in a slide triggered in the Waterfall Creek area, approximately 13 miles south of Telluride. His disappearance was noted when friends and family, alarmed by his overdue return, followed his tracks on Monday night but failed to locate him. The Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) provided a preliminary report on the incident.
The search for Harrelson was conducted by San Miguel County deputies and search and rescue teams, who began their efforts on Monday night and continued into Tuesday morning. The challenging search conditions necessitated avalanche mitigation before the teams could safely enter the area.
Tragically, Harrelson’s body was discovered on Tuesday morning, with the San Miguel County Coroner reporting that he had sustained traumatic injuries from the avalanche. The CAIC noted that the avalanche occurred on a northwest-facing peak below the treeline.
The Montrose Daily Press reports a particularly poignant detail: after being carried by the avalanche for 200 to 300 feet, Harrelson managed to free himself and hiked a similar distance before succumbing to his injuries under some trees. The coroner, Emil Sante, reflected on Harrelson’s deep love for Ophir and his passion for backcountry skiing, noting the community’s loss of a beloved figure.
The CAIC has issued warnings of considerable avalanche risks across most of Colorado’s mountains, with both natural and human-triggered avalanches reported on slopes of 30- to 35-degree steepness. The dangers are not confined to any specific aspect or elevation, with open areas below the treeline being as perilous as those at higher elevations.
Ophir, nestled in a valley and flanked by avalanche-prone paths, is no stranger to such natural hazards. The town is bordered by peaks like Lookout Peak and Yellow Mountain and has a history of dramatic avalanche events, some of which have been captured in videos and shared widely.
Safety Tips and Call to Action
In light of this tragedy, it is crucial for backcountry enthusiasts to prioritize safety. Here are some tips:
- Check Avalanche Forecasts: Always consult the CAIC for current avalanche conditions.
- Carry Proper Equipment: Essential items include an avalanche transceiver, shovel, and probe.
- Never Go Alone: Always have a partner and maintain visual contact.
- Stay Educated: Regularly participate in avalanche safety courses.
Additionally, we urge our readers to support Colorado’s search and rescue teams by purchasing a Colorado Outdoor Recreation Search and Rescue (COSAR) Card. These cards provide vital funds to the dedicated volunteers and teams who respond to backcountry emergencies, helping ensure their continued operation and safety.