Man dies in avalanche

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS -- A 26-year-old Steamboat Springs man died Monday in an avalanche on Soda Mountain.

Michael Gebhardt was backcountry skiing when an avalanche triggered in an area just northwest of Buffalo Pass. Gebhardt was in the backcountry with his brother, who was visiting, and two local friends, Routt County Sheriff Lt. Richard Wood said.

The death is the first avalanche-related death in Colorado this winter and the first in Routt County since 2001. The accident occurred on a high-risk avalanche slope known as the Flume of Doom, about five miles from Dry Lake Campground.

Gebhardt was a professional ski tuner at Extreme Tuning and was a talented backcountry skier with a huge heart and a knack for making people laugh, good friend Dan Vandevender said.

"There was nothing that could stop that kid. Every day it was go, go, go," he said. "He was a 100 percent, happy-go-lucky guy."

Gebhardt had plans to enter extreme skiing competitions next month.

"He loved skiing, loved every aspect about it," Vandevender said.

At around 12:30 p.m. Monday, Gebhardt was dropped off at the top of the slope by one of his friends on a snowmobile. He was about halfway down the slope when the avalanche started and caught him, Routt County Search and Rescue Incident Commander Scott Havener said.

Gebhardt was the first one in the party down the slope. His two friends were at the bottom of the slope waiting with snowmobiles and watched as the avalanche move down the mountain, Wood said.

The brother, who was skiing above the avalanche when it triggered, had lost sight of Gebhardt. He heard the friends yelling down below and continued down the mountain to help.

Gebhardt, who was wearing an avalanche beacon, was buried in about three feet of snow. It took eight minutes for the other men to find him and dig him out. The group had just one shovel, Havener said.

The friends administered CPR; however, they were unable to save the man. Medical officials determined he was dead when they arrived on scene about an hour later. No one else in the group was injured.

One of the men called for help from a cell phone. Two of the men stayed on scene and another took a snowmobile to Summit Lake to meet search and rescue workers and guide them back to the scene, Havener said.

Avalanche danger still was very high when rescue workers arrived on scene, Havener said. About 30 feet of snow slid in the avalanche that buried Gebhardt, and snow remained above that area and was capable of breaking.

All the search and rescue workers had avalanche beacons, Havener said, and they tried to have only one person in the avalanche zone at a time.

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