The bodies of two snowbikers killed when a massive avalanche swept down a central Colorado mountainside have been recovered after a desperate, hours-long rescue effort failed to save their lives.
The Colorado Avalanche Information Center said three people were riding the bikes – a combination of snowmobile and motorcycle – near Red and White Mountain in Eagle County, about 15 miles north of Vail, when the avalanche hit Saturday.
“One rider was partially buried and was able to extricate himself,” the center said in a statement.
But the avalanche carried the other two riders into a gully, where they were fully buried in debris from the 650-foot-wide wall of snow that roared 120 feet down the mountain. The survivor contacted authorities at about 4:45 p.m. on Saturday, Eagle County officials said.
Killed were Dillon Block, 28, and Cesar Almanza-Hernandez, 30. Both were from nearby Gypsum, Colorado.
Hunter Schleper of Vail said he and five friends had just returned to their trucks after riding when another group of riders told them that some people had been buried in an avalanche. The two groups went to the scene and dug for hours, Schleper said in a Facebook post.
“We finally located each of the riders at a depth of around 20 feet,” Schleper said. “It was clear that there was no chance of survival.”
He said Vail Mountain Rescue arrived and told them to suspend the recovery, citing the late hour and continued avalanche danger.
“We all made it out of the woods around 9 p.m., hearts heavy,” Schleper said.
Search and rescue volunteers recovered the bodies Sunday. The sheriff’s office said in a statement it appeared the snowbikers may have triggered the avalanche. Four people have died in avalanches in Colorado this winter, authorities said.
“Snowstorms pile up one after the other all winter long. Wind blows snow off of some slopes and on to others,” the sheriff’s statement said. “Temperature changes cause snow crystals to metamorphose. If the snow’s consistency remains constant, the snowpack is homogeneous and stable. It’s when the snowpack develops different layers of different snow types that it becomes unstable and hazardous.”