Avlanche kills 3 on Cumberland Pass

Brief by Central Staff

Outdoors – March 1999 – Colorado Central Magazine

A back-country avalanche killed three Western State College students on February 6 near Cumberland Pass.

The three — Andrew P. Vork, Casey James McKenny, and Matthew Allen Noddin — were part of a party of six people on an outing that combined skiing, snowboarding, and snowmobiling.

They had been following all the precautions, according to Joel Karinen, one of the survivors: they carried beacons and shovels, and had tested the snowpack that morning for avalanche danger.

The slide struck after a snowmobile got stuck in the deep powder. The three who died were attempting to free it, and because they had taken off their skis, they were unable to get away from the slide.

Using the beacons and receivers they carried, other members of the party were able to dig out the victims, who were under four to five feet of snow. But they were dead by the time they were reached.

This tragedy illustrates one of those cruel ironies: It’s the experts who often get into the most trouble.

In other words, people of normal outdoor abilities wouldn’t ever reach the Death Zone on Mt. Everest, let alone succumb to its dangers. Only very strong swimmers tackle the English Channel, which isn’t a danger to people who stay out of the water because they can’t swim. Only the best balloonists try to float around the world.

This realization hit home about a dozen years ago with the death of an old college friend, Tim McClure, who grew up in Center and attended the University of Northern Colorado when we did.

He settled in Breckenridge, and was such a skilled back-country skier that he headed the county’s search and rescue team. And one day in late November, he and a companion were killed by an avalanche on Mt. Guyot.