HomeNews Kebler Road avalanche claims life of snowmobiler
Kebler Road avalanche claims life of snowmobiler
Written by Mark Reaman
Wednesday, 12 February 2014
“The avalanche danger is dynamic...”
A group of tourists from Wisconsin were involved in a major avalanche above Kebler Pass Road Monday afternoon that took the life of one of the visitors. Joshua Lesniak, 26, of Berlin, Wisconsin was trapped in the slide and killed. He was wearing an avalanche beacon but was buried approximately 10 feet underneath the slide. When his friends found his body he wasn’t breathing and they were not able to revive him.
According to the Mt. Crested Butte Police Department, three men were riding their snowmobiles on the hills just north of the Splain’s Gulch Road intersection about 1:20 p.m., about two and a half miles west of Crested Butte. The riders set off an avalanche that was about 600 feet wide. Lesniak and his friend, Ian McCullough, 28, of Omro, Wisconsin were trapped in the slide. McCullough was able to dig himself out of the snowpack. A third rider, Andrew Busse, 34, also of Berlin, was behind the group because his snowmobile had gotten stuck so he was not trapped in the slide. Some local residents commuting back and forth from Irwin were in the vicinity and helped search for the buried snowmobiler. Mt. Crested Butte police, Crested Butte Search and Rescue, and officers from the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management all arrived at the scene to offer assistance, but at that point Lesniak’s body had been recovered. According to the police report, Lesniak’s friends, along with the bystanders, used beacons to locate where he was buried. They dug down approximately 21 feet before locating Lesniak. His friends reported that there were no obvious signs of trauma but that he was “pale and purple.” They attempted CPR but could not resuscitate Lesniak. His body was turned over to the Gunnison County coroner. Monday was not the day to be out in the backcountry around Crested Butte. According to Crested Butte Avalanche Center forecaster Zach Guy, “The avalanche danger was rated high on Monday, which means very dangerous avalanche conditions exist. An avalanche warning was in effect, and our travel advice was to avoid traveling on or below avalanche terrain. We were at the tail end of a very significant storm, historic in terms of the amount of precipitation that fell.” Guy said the warning extended below tree line, meaning “natural avalanches were likely and human-triggered avalanches were very likely.” Guy said the obvious red flags were there on Monday. Heavy snow, recent high winds, signs of recent avalanche activity, snow cracking underfoot and collapsing snow are all indications that an avalanche is possible. “The avalanche danger is dynamic,” Guy emphasized. “There are many days in the winter when routes under Kebler or Gothic Road or Peanut Lake Road are generally safe. However, there are also days when avalanches are likely and could release spontaneously off of steep slopes and cross into flat terrain. “Check our avalanche advisory at www.cbavalanchecenter.org before heading into the backcountry,” Guy continued. “We provide daily avalanche danger ratings and specific travel advice. If you are traveling in the backcountry, bring rescue gear (beacon, probe, shovel, extra warm clothing, cell phone, and first aid kit), travel with a partner, and spread out if you cross through or beneath avalanche terrain.” County coroner Frank Vader said it was determined Tuesday morning that Lesniak had died of asphyxiation from being buried in the hard and deep snow. “There was no sign of any other significant injuries,” he said. “Frankly, if he hadn’t had a beacon we might not have found him until summer. That will probably be the case with his snowmobile.” The snowmobiles were brought in and not rented from any local outfitter.