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Avalanche victim’s body is recovered

Tobie Baker/Cortez Journal Yellow ribbons were available at the ticket gate Saturday to memorialize former Ute Mountain Roundup Rodeo chairman Rob Yates, who died in an avalanche in March.

By Tobie Baker
Cortez Journal

The Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office has announced that the body of Rob Yates was recovered on Sunday. The 47-year-old was lost in an avalanche on March 5.

“I’m extremely relieved,” said Sheriff Dennis Spruell.

According to Spruell, family and friends established a base camp in the avalanche zone on Sharkstooth Peak in mid-May, and those private search efforts via horseback have continued nearly every weekend.

“The body was found about 1 p.m. on Sunday,” said Spruell.

Yates, of Montezuma County, was part of a five-man group of snowmobilers in the Bear Creek drainage near Sharkstooth Peak when the avalanche occurred. Yates snowmobile and helmet were found, but two official search-and-rescue efforts by the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office were called off because of adverse weather conditions.

“I wish we could have done more, but Mother Nature didn’t want to work with us,” Spruell said.

Spruell added that the investigation into the accident has been closed, and he hopes the recovery finally provides some closure for both the family and community.

“This has caused a real mental drain on me,” Spruell said. “It’s been physically impossible to do anything.”

Yates and his wife, Tonya, were married in 1991. The couple has a 21-year-old son, Bradey Rey. In a May 19 Facebook post, Bradey Yates posted that he was keeping his fingers crossed as search-and-rescue efforts for his father resumed.

Reached via telephone on Monday, Tonya Yates said the recovery and subsequent funeral would finally bring some closure.

“Now we have to deal with going through life without him,” she said. “That’s going to be hard.”

In the La Plata Mountains north of Mancos, Sharkstooth Peak’s elevation is 11,868 feet.

According to Spruell, family members reported snow was still up to 15 feet deep in the avalanche zone on May 25. Family members again searched the slide area on Sunday, and Yates body was found still buried in the snow. The Montezuma County Coroner’s Office contacted Care Flight, a medical response helicopter, to retrieve the body and fly it to Cortez as a public service, Spruell said.

Brian Lazar, deputy director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, described last winter’s avalanche season as worse than average.

“The season was not incredibly unusual, but we did see larger than normal avalanches that were more destructive,” he said.

An emotional military tribute to Yates opened the Ute Mountain Roundup Rodeo Saturday. Tears in the crowd were wiped away by a standing ovation.

“My dad had a ‘show must go on’ attitude,” his son Bradey Yates said moments before Saturday’s first event. “This rodeo is 84 years old. My dad may be gone, but he would want us to continue. This was his pride and joy.”

A former Blackhawk helicopter crew chief, Yates was memorialized at the start of Saturday’s rodeo events with full military honors. He is credited with helping to revive the Ute Mountain Roundup Rodeo over the last decade.

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