A Mountain Village backcountry skier was killed in an avalanche in the Matterhorn area Sunday, according to the San Miguel County Sheriff’s Office. Scott Spencer, who was reported missing Sunday afternoon, was found Monday. He was 53. Spencer is survived by his wife Sara, sons Jack and Peter, and sisters Bonnie, Debbie and Meaghan. Crippin Funeral Home will attend to services.
San Miguel County Coroner Emil Sante is investigating the cause of death, per protocols.
A search for an overdue backcountry skier commenced Sunday afternoon; avalanche activity was confirmed. Spencer was skiing with his dog in the greater Base Camp area, approximately 12 miles south of Telluride Sunday morning, according to a Sheriff’s Office news release. Spencer’s dog was found barking and in distress by his vehicle, which was parked at the Matterhorn Nordic parking lot Sunday afternoon.
A man who had been in the same backcountry area told authorities he saw evidence of a slide, but did not see the missing man. Rescuers searched the area by air Sunday and located two significant avalanches. While rescuers located some equipment believed to be Spencer’s, they were not able to locate him Sunday because of incoming weather and nightfall.
Weather initially delayed search operations and mitigation work Monday morning, but Mountain Blade Runner and Telluride Helitrax were able to complete mitigation, and Search and Rescue members, Telluride Ski Patrollers and their avalanche dogs were inserted into the field via helicopter Monday afternoon.
The avalanche dogs quickly alerted handlers to an area of interest, and using pinpoint probes, rescuers were able to locate and recover the body of the missing man. Spencer was found in a slide estimated to be 300 feet wide by 600 feet long that ran 1,800 feet on terrain on the west side of Yellow Mountain, according to the release.
Matterhorn and Priest Lake were closed to all recreationists during the search.
A Colorado Avalanche Information Center spokesperson told the Sheriff’s Office that they classified the unintentional release as “destructive and large enough to bury, injure or kill a person.”
More than two dozen people were involved in the search over the two days.
Sheriff Bill Masters said, “We are all deeply saddened to lose another husband, father and beloved member of our community in such a tragic event.”
The avalanche death is the second in the Telluride area since Feb. 19, when 47-year-old Salvadore Garcia-Atance died in the Bear Creek Preserve area when riders above him released an avalanche.
Garcia-Atance was reportedly skinning up the Bear Creek Trail having started his ascent from the trailhead in the Town of Telluride.
The slide occurred the morning of Feb. 19 in the Tempter area of Bear Creek, a couloir off the Telluride Ski Area, and ran approximately 75 feet wide leaving a debris field 300 feet long and 15 to 20 feet deep, according to authorities.
At the time, Masters said Bear Creak was “not a safe place to be,” adding avalanche danger will continue.
On Monday, he reiterated that sentiment.
“Use extreme caution if you choose to ski in the backcountry,” he said.
Susan Lilly, Sheriff’s Office public information officer, added it’s “insanely dangerous” out there.
“If these recent events don’t scare you, then maybe nothing will,” she said. “The Sheriff’s Office wants to remind everyone that they should take the upmost care and use extreme caution if they choose to venture in the backcountry. … We urge people to think twice before going out.”
The loss of two locals in as many weeks marks a “sad time for our community,” Lilly said.
“These gentlemen were fathers, husbands and beloved members of our community,” she said. “The community has taken quite a hit with the loss of these two men.”
The Wednesday avalanche forecast for the North and South San Juan regions listed conditions as considerable near and above treeline, as of press time Tuesday afternoon.
“Dangerous avalanche conditions remain in the wake of our recent storm that accumulated over two feet of dense snow across the (zones). This new load is adding stress to buried weaker snow,” according to the summary. “Wind-drifts up to four feet thick can be found on easterly-facing slopes. Avalanches that break in the storm snow will be large enough to bury, injure or kill a person, and potentially break wider than expected. An avalanche that breaks in the storm snow could step down to deeper weak layers creating a very large avalanche.”
For the latest avalanche forecast, visit avalanche.state.co.us.