The man who was killed in a massive avalanche south of Vail Pass on Thursday afternoon has been identified as 38-year-old Mark McCarron of Westminster, Colo.
Eagle County Coroner Kara Bettis on Friday said that the cause and manner of death will be determined after an autopsy is conducted.
McCarron was snowboarding with two friends in an area known as Avalanche Bowl when a slide that has initially been estimated to be 300 feet wide and 10 feet deep swept him into a stand of trees, according to preliminary reports from the Eagle County sheriff's office and Colorado Avalanche Information Center.
One of McCarron's friends was also caught in the slide but he was able to ride his snowboard out of the debris to safety. The third friend was on a snowmobile he used to drop the two snowboarders off.
The trio of friends had been in the 12,000-foot-high Avalanche Bowl taking turns riding through the newly fallen snow all day, according to a press release from the Eagle County Sheriff's Office. Vail Public Safety Communications Center received a 911 call reporting the slide at about 1:30 p.m.
The surviving two men were able to locate the victim using avalanche beacons. Resuscitation efforts were unsuccessful, the press release said. Other touring groups in the area reportedly aided in the first response.
It was the sixth avalanche death in Colorado this ski season.
All three were experienced snowboarders and snowmobilers who are very familiar with the Avalanche Bowl area and they were all equipped with safety equipment, the press release said. The survivors, however, admitted to authorities that the three of them smoked marijuana — "Dead-Head OG" to be specific — around the time of the accident, the press release stated, noting that sheriff's detectives were alerted.
Michael Roberts of Westword on Friday wrote that the sheriff's press release is controversial.
"First of all, it's unclear why detectives are investigating the use of marijuana," Roberts wrote. "If the snowboarders were 21 and over [we now know they are], they are legally allowed to possess up to an ounce of cannabis under Amendment 64, which was signed into law this past December.
"The mention not only of marijuana, but the strain being smoked, feels pejorative," he continued. "Consider: Would it have been noted that an avalanche victim had consumed a beer before dying? If so, would law enforcers have been compelled to mention its potency, or perhaps its brand? Can you imagine a release that reads "Detectives with the Eagle County Sheriff's Office were informed that the parties involved were under the influence of Pabst Blue Ribbon (a type of beer) at the time of the incident"?
LeeAnne Mia Golden, in a post beneath the Westword article, wrote that she is the girlfriend of one of the survivors and they are "livid" about the sheriff's press release, which she said was "inappropriate, disrespectful and slanderous towards the individuals involved," their friends and families. She also wrote that the men were in possession of marijuana but not under its influence at the time of the avalanche.
Staff from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center planned to visit the site of the tragedy Friday to better understand the nature of the slide but they have not yet posted the results of their survey.