At Least One Dead, Two Injured in Memorial Day Avalanche at Rocky Mountain National Park

by Jon D. B.

A deadly rock fall and avalanche Monday morning led to multiple rescue and recovery operations in Rocky Mountain National Park.

With elevations ranging from 7,800 feet to over 14,000 feet above sea level, winter conditions vary greatly in the Rocky Mountains. At locations above 8,000 feet especially, winter can stretch well into late May or early June. And as with any extreme weather, accidents, injuries, and deaths can occur. Such was the case this Memorial Day morning for hikers in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Any serene, snow-covered slope can be beautiful one moment and deadly the next. Avalanches are common and occur regularly during the winter and early spring in Rocky Mountain National Park. And at 9 a.m. Monday morning, a combination of rock fall and avalanche were reported near Dreamweaver Couloir on Mt. Meeker.

Climbers recreating on Memorial Day witnessed the event, with multiple individuals becoming trapped or injured. According to the park, a female and two males were left incapacitated. The ages and hometowns of the three individuals are being withheld until family members are notified.

Location and severity of injuries of one of the males required Rocky Mountain National Park Search and Rescue team members to request assistance from a Colorado National Guard helicopter.

Around 2 p.m., Buckley Air Force Base helicopter would extricate him via a hoist operation with winch operated cable. A brief weather window would allow Rocky Mountain Rescue to assist with the helicopter hoist operations. From there, the man would transfer to Upper Beaver Meadows. He would transfer to Northern Colorado Med Evac air ambulance and then Medical Center of the Rockies.

One Man Dead in Rocky Mountain National Park Memorial Day Avalanche

The female hiker suffered minor injuries and was flown to Upper Beaver Meadows at 4:15 p.m. From there, she would transfer by ground to further medical care. Rescue teams worked in terrain above 11,500 feet and at times experienced winter like weather conditions throughout the day.

The third individual, however, would not survive. At approximately 5:15 p.m. on Memorial Day, a deceased male was located by searchers using a RECCO device and probing in avalanche debris.

Rocky Mountain National Park Search and Rescue Team during incident in the Mount Meeker area, May 29, 2022. (Photo courtesy Rocky Mountain National Park, NPS)

No further information is available at this time, as families are still being notified. Several agencies assisted Rocky Mountain National Park’s Search and Rescue team with this operation. Colorado Search and Rescue Association, Flight for Life, Rocky Mountain Rescue Group, Front Range Rescue Dogs, Colorado National Guard, and Med Evac would all assist.

If you’re planning a trip to the park during the next few weeks, you also need to be ready for winter conditions. Extra planning is key to a safe, successful winter adventure in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Rocky Mountain Avalanche Safety

  • Avoid skiing or snowshoeing in gullies, on unforested slopes and under snow cornices where avalanches could occur. Remember to look up when you are traveling at the base of steep, snow-covered terrain.
  • Open slopes of 30 to 45 degrees can load with dangerous masses of snow, easily triggered by backcountry skiers, snowshoers, hikers, or even wildlife.
  • Consider attending a formal avalanche training session before beginning your trip. Be aware of changing weather that may influence avalanche conditions. Remember, avalanche danger increases during and after snow storms as well as after heavy wind storms.
  • Always wear an electronic transceiver inside your jacket when traversing avalanche terrain and know how to use it.
  • If you become caught in an avalanche, make swimming motions and try to stay on top of the snow. Discard all equipment and try to remain calm. Carrying the following essential items will increase your group’s chances of surviving an avalanche: transceivers, portable shovels, and probes.

To learn about avalanche safety and backcountry forecasts, visit Rocky’s Avalanche Awareness webpage.