DENVER - The lone survivor of an avalanche that killed five snowboarders in Colorado Saturday was buried in the snow for one hour with only his head and one arm above the snow and ice.
Jerome Boulay, a manager at a Colorado snowboard company, was only partially buried in the 200-yard wide and nearly 400-yard long avalanche triggered when he and five other snowboarders ventured into an out-of-bounds zone above the Loveland Pass ski area, about 60 miles west of Denver, according to Clear Creek County Sheriff Don Krueger.
Boulay was discovered around 2 p.m. Saturday by Mike Bennett, a fellow participant in the Rocky Mountain High Backcountry Bash, a backcountry snowboarder event in which the men were participating. Bennett joined the search after learning of the avalanche from officials.
"I didn't hear him yelling. I came around a corner and saw him and heard him at the same time," Bennett told the Denver Post. "I said, 'Well, you're breathing and I think you're OK right now, so I'm going to start digging for these other two guys.'" The five deceased snowboarders were identified by officials as Chris Peters, 32, of Lakewood, Colo.; Joe Timlin, 32, of Gypsum, Colo.; Ian Lamphere, 36, of Crested Butte, Colo.; Ryan Novack, 33, of Boulder, Colo.; and Rick Gaukel,33, of Estes Park, Colo.
Boulay was taken to a nearby hospital but showed no outward signs of injury and was released, Sheriff Krueger said.
"Surviving an avalanche is all luck," said Dale Atkins, the president of the American Avalanche Association and one of the rescuers who responded to the avalanche. "That one fellow is able to walk away from this, it's luck."
The five deceased snowboarders were trapped under about 8 feet of snow in what is being called Colorado's deadliest avalanche in 50 years.
"It literally traveled at the speed of a freight train, probably moving 50 to 60 miles an hour," Atkins said. "You literally have seconds to get out of the way."
Another snowboarder was killed after triggering an avalanche on Vail Pass Thursday.
The avalanche Saturday was the second deadliest in the nation since 1950. The worst was in 1962 at Twin Lakes, when seven people were killed, according to statistics compiled by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, or CAIC.
Rescue teams were on the scene into the evening trying to reach the snowboarders, but were up against a heavy snowstorm in the Loveland Pass area, Sheriff Krueger said.
Avalanche forecasters at the CAIC had predicted "considerable" danger Saturday in the area where the slide took place, with warnings to carefully evaluate snowpack conditions and choose routes carefully and make conservative decisions before venturing out.
Before Saturday's incident, 19 people have been killed nationwide this season by avalanches, according to the center.