Avalanche center to investigate man's death

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The Colorado Avalanche Information Center is investigating the avalanche that killed a 26-year-old Steamboat Springs man Monday.

Dale Atkins of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center said the center sent someone to the avalanche site on Soda Mountain on Tuesday and is hoping to interview those involved. The center tries to investigate all avalanches where fatalities, serious injuries or close calls occur, Atkins said.

On Monday afternoon, Michael Gebhardt died when an avalanche swept him down a southerly facing slope on Soda Mountain, which is northwest of Buffalo Past.

Gebhardt, a professional ski tuner at Extreme Tuning and an experienced backcountry skier, was with his brother and two friends, who were using snowmobiles to access untracked skiing terrain in the area.

Atkins said it is unusual for avalanches to occur on southerly facing mountains but noted a break was reported in the same general area last year in March. The slope where Gebhardt went down is known as the Flume of Doom.

"Avalanches in midwinter are fairly unusual (on southerly facing slopes). Most tend to happen on northerly and easterly facing slopes," Atkins said.

Officials with the avalanche center hope to talk to those who were involved in the incident to determine their level of experience and find out why they chose to ski that slope. The center also will look at snow cover and weather conditions in the area.

"In every accident, there is a lot of information that can be used. We try to find the lessons learned and pass it along," Atkins said.

Also on Tuesday, Routt County Coroner Rob Ryg said Gebhardt died of suffocation. Reports indicate that Gebhardt died quickly after being caught in the avalanche.

Gebhardt was buried in 3 feet of snow, and it took about eight to 10 minutes for the group to dig him out. His friends attempted CPR.

Ryg said no autopsy would be done. Gebhardt will be taken home to New York for a funeral, a representative from the Yampa Valley Funeral Home said.

A memorial fund to help the family with the cost of the funeral has been set up in Gebhardt's name at Wells Fargo Bank, his neighbor Jeanne Heffley said. Donations can be made at the Steamboat Springs Wells Fargo Bank. For more information, call the bank at 879-0550.

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