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Colorado Avalanche Victims Were Good Friends From a Small Town

February 18, 2014

In this 2012 photo provided by Joseph Kindred, Justin Lentz, left, 32, and Jarrard Law, 34, both of Portage, Wis., arm wrestle. (AP Photo/Joseph Kindred)

Two skiers killed in a large avalanche in Colorado were good friends from a small town in southern Wisconsin, relatives and colleagues said Monday.

Three other skiers were hospitalized following Saturday's avalanche near Leadville, Colo. Rescue crews found the two skiers' bodies Sunday afternoon near Independence Pass, about 80 miles southwest of Denver, the Lake County Sheriff's Office said.

Robert Lentz said his son, Justin Lentz of Portage, was one of those killed in the avalanche. The 32-year-old loved to ski and started when he was 5 or 6 years old, his father said. He said his son was "a good kid" who worked as an electrician and was engaged to be married.

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Another Portage man, Jarrard Law, 34, was also killed. Law was an information-technology expert at the Necedah Area School District, where Superintendent Larry Gierach remembered him as an "incredible man."

"Jarrard had great skills with people and was an integral part of our planning when it came to technology," Gierach said. Many staff members thought of him as a friend first and as a professional second, the superintendent said.

The school district planned to make grief counselors available to faculty and students.

Lentz and Law were close buddies who frequently went skiing, snowboarding and mountain biking together, said Joey Kindred, 28, who knew them both well.

Kindred recalled how Lentz enjoyed competing with his friends with over-the-top snowboard tricks, even though he had a bad shoulder that popped out of its socket whenever he crashed.

"He'd fall down so often we'd call him Man Down," Kindred said. "He'd laugh, get up and do it again. And when his shoulder popped out he'd call over to his fiancee - she's a nurse - and she'd pop it back in."

Law was always the life of a party, but he was happiest when he was in the outdoors or spending time with friends, Kindred said.

Kindred had gone skiing and snowboarding with Lentz and Law in the past. He said the two had only skied at resorts in Colorado so they wouldn't have been familiar with the back country trails.

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"I just wish I could have been with them to stop them from going down those lanes," said Kindred, who used to live in Colorado.

Saturday's avalanche was the third deadly slide in Colorado in less than a week, authorities said Sunday.

Susan Matthews, a spokeswoman for the Lake County Office of Emergency Management, said seven skiers on Star Mountain near Leadville triggered the latest slide around 5 p.m. Saturday.

"They were found near the top of the avalanche and they had beacons on, which really helped a lot," Matthews said. "The terrain there is extremely steep."

Three skiers were hospitalized with injuries that included a broken leg, a broken ankle and a possible broken rib and collapsed lung. One has since been released from the hospital.

Brian Lazar, deputy director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, said recent storms that have dumped up to 6 feet of snow in some parts of Colorado's mountains have left most of the mountains in a "historic avalanche cycle." Such conditions have not been seen in the region since at least the early 1990s.

The snow has fallen on top of weak layers in the snowpack.

"A little snow or wind or the extra weight of a person in the wrong place could trigger an avalanche," Lazar said.

He said Saturday's avalanche was at least a 3.5 on an intensity scale that goes from 1 to 5, with 5 being the most destructive. The avalanche snapped several mature trees as it rumbled down the slope.

"It's breaking trees that have been there a long time," Lazar said. "This is a good indication that avalanches are running bigger than they have."

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A scenic sunrise graces the four area mountains of Aspen and Snowmass after the first major storm of the season last weekend dropped 13 inches of snow. Photos by Jeremy Swanson

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