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A look at the deadliest avalanches in Colorado history

Many of the deadliest avalanches in the state occurred during the mining boom of the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Credit: History Colorado Center
Woodstock avalanche, 1884

KUSA - It was March 10, 1884 when the small mountain settlement Woodstock in Gunnison County was devastated by one of the deadliest avalanches in the state's history.

The small mining town was located below a significant slide area, and on that day, the avalanche buried and destroyed the town's structures.

Thirteen people were killed in that slide, and today all that remains is a ghost town.

Colorado's mountains, particularly the Interstate 70 and U.S. 40 corridors, have been hammered with avalanches this past week -- some natural, others as the result of mitigation efforts. 

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9NEWS takes a look (below) at some of the deadliest avalanches in the state's history, according to a paper from Dale Atkins, who formerly worked as the top forecaster for the Colorado Avalanche Information Center:

Woodstock, Gunnison County

March 10, 1884

Death toll: 13

Credit: History Colorado Center
Woodstock avalanche, 1884

What today stands as a ghost town was once a thriving settlement built along railroad tracks for the Denver, South Park & Pacific Railway. The only problem? It was built right along an avalanche slide path. On that fateful March day, 18 of the 200 residents who lived there were buried in the avalanche that swept over the town, destroying buildings and ripping up trees. Thirteen were killed, including the six children of Mrs. Marcella Doyle, who ran a boarding house for railroad men. The town was never rebuilt. Tunnel Gulch was built downgrade, out of the avalanche slide path, about a half-mile away.

Liberty Bell Mine, Telluride  

March 1902

Death toll: 12

Credit: U.S. Geological Survey
Liberty Bell Mine ruins, Telluride

The mill buildings were swept away and the tramway was severely damaged in this avalanche, which ultimately killed 12 people. After the incident, Liberty Bell Mine workers built a V-shape crib of timbers filled with rock to redirect snowslides. (And it worked! In 1906, the snow in another avalanche was divided by the obstacle and did little harm.)

Shenandoah Mine, Howardsville

March 17, 1906

Death toll: 12

Credit: U.S. Program on Man and the Biosphere
Shenandoah Mine avalanche, Howardsville

In the early evening hours, the Shenandoah bunk house and boarding house were destroyed in this slide. Twenty-one men were in the boarding house eating dinner; only nine survived. In the Silverton Standard newspaper, the buildings were described by a survivor as being "smashed" into "kindling wood," with the men "all thrown out into the slide at one time."

Silver Plume, Clear Creek County

Feb. 12, 1899

Death toll: 10

Credit: Clear Creek County
Silver Plume avalanche, 1899

Thirteen miners were caught in this slide, 10 of whom died. Rescuers said in an Aspen Daily Times article at the time that it was "almost impossible" to search for survivors due to drifts "filled with timbers and boulders." The slide also swept away $50,000 worth of ore stored in the mine houses, as well as several buildings. Ultimately, the town dump saved the nearby town by altering the course of the avalanche before it reached the most populated area. 

Homestake Mine, Leadville

February 1885

Death toll: 10

Credit: Denver Public Library
Homestake Mine avalanche, Leadville, 1885

Eleven miners who lived and worked about 15 miles northwest of Leadville were swept away when their cabin was buried in an avalanche. One survived. A New York Times article from that time says rescuers were met by a crowd of miners, who told them it wouldn't be possible to reach the buried men in the soft snow.

Hall Valley, Park County

January 1877

Death toll: 8

Credit: Park County Archives
Hall Valley

A snowslide that crashed down the valley near the Whale mine buried cabins, killing a family and four others. The storm nearly killed another man named George Cardier, who relayed his experience in the Colorado Miner, saying the force of the avalanche knocked off his socks and boots. Cardier survived when the cabins created a barrier around him, diverting the snow. 

Mendota Mine, Telluride

December 1883 

Death toll: 8

Credit: Mining Artifacts Organization
Mendota Mine, Telluride

An avalanche swept away buildings, including a shaft house that buried and killed eight men.

Twin Lakes, Lake County

Jan. 21, 1962

Death toll: 7

A quiet January morning in the town of Twin Lakes turned deadly when an avalanche roared down Mount Elbert, destroying four homes and trapping nine people, killing seven of them.

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