A 27-year-old man’s body was found Saturday in Colorado, nearly 21 hours after his friends who escaped a fatal avalanche called 911, authorities said. His two dogs also died.
The Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office announced the recovery of the snowshoer at 2:42 p.m.
A family member, Laura Vitkavage, confirmed to CBS Denver that her cousin, Nathan Schmidt, was killed as a result of the snowslide. He and his friends were trekking to a cabin to camp for the weekend.
“We’re all focused on the fact that Nathan died with his dogs and doing what he loved,” Vitkavage said. “That’s about the only way the family manage the grief of this tragedy.”
According to Vitkavage, one member of the group was not caught in the avalanche. That person called authorities at 4:47 p.m. Friday, per the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office.
The other two members of the group were pushed into Yule Creek by the slide but were to get themselves out, Vitkavage said. Searchers found them “wet and frozen,” Vitkavage said, and urgently evacuated the pair after getting Schmidt’s possible location from them.
Search activity, however, was limited to a small area of the debris field due to the threat of additional slides.
“Due to the area’s unstable conditions and time of day, search efforts were limited to areas that could be safely examined,” the sheriff’s office stated in its press release.
Searchers were pulled out of the area shortly after 9 p.m.
“We didn’t want the search to stop,” Vitkavage said. “We didn’t want them to give up.”
Schmidt was a skilled outdoorsman who was familiar with the terrain, Vitkavage said. He was also trained in cold water survival techniques.
“He died doing what he loved, with his dogs he loved on an adventure in the great outdoors with friends he loved,” his family said in a statement.” His friends were rescued by incredible first responders. Thank you to those who fought for his life. His dogs were his companions to the end. We are so glad they were with him.”
Schmidt sent a video to family members Friday morning before heading into the Yule Creek drainage with his friends, Vitkavage said. The video showed his dogs playing in the snow.
The slide was approximately 50 feet wide and ran 250 feet vertically, according to a report from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. It occurred well below treeline and on a west-facing slope.
“The group traveled on snowshoes on an unmaintained road,” the report continued. “Three of the people and both dogs moved to a road that cut mid-slope along the side of a steep gully. They triggered an avalanche and the moving snow pushed them down into the gully. The debris formed a deep pile in the gully bottom.”