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Searchers conduct a probe line near the toe of the avalanche debris Feb. 20.

(Photo courtesy of Colorado Avalanche Information Center)

A trio of snowboarders illegally ducked a Telluride Ski Resort boundary rope before one of them triggered the avalanche that killed 47-year-old local Salvadore Garcia-Atance Feb. 19. The details leading up to the fatal slide in the Bear Creek area were outlined in the Colorado Avalanche Information Center’s final report released Thursday.

The snowboarders, who are identified as riders 1, 2 and 3 in the report, wanted to ride the east face of Temptation Bowl, a permanently closed-off area, and skipped the ski resort boundary across from Alpino Vino around 10:30 a.m. that day, according to the report. Meanwhile, around 9 a.m., Garcia-Atance left for “a casual ski for exercise on the Bear Creek trail.”

“He traveled uphill on alpine tour skis and climbing skins,” according to the report.

Garcia-Atance was still on the trail below Temptation when Riders 2 and 3 descended without incident. The two snowboarders stopped at an area known as Big Tree and radioed Rider 1, who started his run. On the second or third turn, cracks formed across the slope, releasing the avalanche.

Rider 1 was caught in the middle of the slab, but rode at a 45-degree angle to the fall line and out of the moving snow, yelling, “get safe, get safe” over the radio to alert the riders below.

All three riders avoided getting stuck in the avalanche, which produced a large powder cloud as it funneled into the Temptation path and into the Bear Creek area below. After the slide settled, the snowboarders confirmed everyone was OK via radio, before regrouping at Big Tree. The riders made their way through the Temptation area to the bottom one by one.

According to the report, Rider 1 felt the pull of the avalanche, but was able to ride out of the moving snow.

At the time, the group didn’t believe anyone was in the area. Rider 1 performed a transceiver search and spot probed for approximately an hour and found nothing. The snowboarders took Bear Creek Trail back to the Town of Telluride, warning a family they encountered along the way of the recent avalanche and unsafe conditions.

Garcia-Atance’s wife called the San Miguel County Sheriff’s Office around 4:20 p.m. Authorities were able to ping Garcia-Atance’s cellphone, which was in the Bear Creek drainage area. Rescuers, along with two avalanche dogs, searched the area for approximately two hours Feb. 19, but didn’t find Garcia-Atance. The Sheriff’s Office contacted the snowboarders that evening and they confirmed that they triggered the avalanche.

The search resumed the morning of Feb. 20 with assistance from Telluride Helitrax helicopters. The body of Garcia-Atance was recovered that morning under six feet of debris. He was not wearing an avalanche transceiver or carrying a shovel or probe pole, according to the report.

“That is not unexpected if he was out for a short trip along a well-used trail. His short trip, though, was exposed to avalanches from above,” the report states. “The outcome of this accident would probably not have changed if Skier 1 was wearing an avalanche transceiver.”

The death is still under investigation by the Sheriff’s Office, according to Public Information Officer Susan Lilly.

While authorities cannot comment on the ongoing investigation, including possible charges, in late December Sheriff Bill Masters warned recreationists about the dangers and potential consequences of “poaching” terrain after an incident in the Black Iron Bowl area.  

“What people don’t realize is that they can trigger an avalanche that has life-threatening risks to unassuming skiers in a different area of the resort,” Masters said at that time. “ … Ducking a rope is considered a petty crime, but skiers who venture into a closed area with people below can be charged with reckless endangerment. And if those people are then injured or worse, you’re talking about a serious felony. The District Attorney has assured me he will prosecute poachers to the fullest extent of the law.”