Took a pretty good trek of north-central CO today starting with a quick hike in Staunton State Park then continuing out 285 and up across Hoosier Pass, through Breck, and finally across Loveland Pass before heading home. It was getting close to sunset, but I figured I'd take the opportunity to make the quick hike out to where that group got slid last season unfortunately taking the lives of five.
Friends and family have built a small memorial for them at the bottom of the slope. Walking out the trail, it's easy to see how you could be lulled into a false sense of security. The "trail" is actually a service road that's a good 20' wide. You're in heavy trees, but upon closer examination, you're in avalanche terrain from virtually the moment you step off the asphalt. The terrain to your right and left is easily over 30 degrees. You can see the obvious huge avalanche slope looming through the trees, but when you get to the bottom of the trail, you've found yourself standing on the edge of a huge avalanche path quite suddenly. You knew it was there, you could see it coming down the trail, but it seems much more distant when coming down the trail. That's where the memorial has been built. What makes this one tricky is that at the bottom of the slide path, the terrain mellows out. You're a pretty good distance from 30 degree terrain as relates to the slide path, but quite clearly you're in the slide path. I could see how one could doubt their ability to remotely trigger a slide on this slope from where the trail intersects the slide path. In short, having visited the site, I can see how a group of experience backcountry travelers got caught here. I don't know what the avalanche conditions were at the time, but I suspect the group wasn't concerned about remotely triggering an avalanche on this slope from this point and that they assumed that the risk of a natural avalanche was low.
Here are some quick pics I snapped with my phone
Approaching the slope:
The memorial and, though it's hard to ascertain in this pic, the huge terrain trap of a good 30' deep gully at the bottom of the massive slide path:
Looking up the slide path from the memorial. Notice how the terrain mellows out into a kind of bench at this point. Like I said, you're a considerable ways from 30 degree terrain in terms of the actual slide path. It's steeper than it looks in this pic, but it definitely doesn't scream "you're gonna trigger a massive killer avalanche from here":
Finally, a couple of pics I snapped of trouble brewing on the quick hike back to the car. There's some massive surface hoar that has formed in the trees adjacent to the obvious slide path. Not sure if it's present on the actual slide path or not, but this stuff is nasty. At least an inch to an inch and a half deep and like I said, though this terrain is pretty heavily treed, it's definitely steeper than 30 degrees and this new snow coming next week is going to fall on a very bad weak layer.