The Eagle County teen was skiing with two friends Saturday on the northeast side of Bartlett Peak between Copper Mountain and Leadville. The teen's friends, including one who made it down the slope safely, said they saw the skier make five or six turns before an avalanche broke about 50 feet above him and carried him to the bottom.
He was buried up to his neck, but his friends quickly ran over and dug him out.
Summit County rescuers determined GPS coordinates from the 911 call, and then directed a Flight for Life crew based in Frisco to fly directly to the victim.
The helicopter was able to land approximately 150 feet from the skier. The pilot, flight paramedic and the victim's two friends carried the man to the helicopter, and he was flown to St. Anthony's Summit Medical Center, where he was hospitalized with serious injuries.
The Summit County Rescue Group said the slide was about 500 feet long.
"It was 15 feet wide at the top, expanding to 65 to 75 feet wide at the toe, and about 500 to 600 vertical feet in length. The snow failed right down to the ground, and there were a lot of rocks," said Kevin Kelble, the flight paramedic at the scene.
All three of the backcountry skiers had avalanche beacons, probes and shovels, and all three had been trained in avalanche awareness.
Rescue groups are warning backcountry skiers to be prepared for avalanches. All backcountry skiers should be fully equipped with avalanche gear and have the knowledge of how to use it, the Summit County Rescue Group said.
Already this season slides have been reported in Rocky Mountain National Park and on Independence, Loveland and Jones passes.