Skier killed in slide outside of Snowmass |

Skier killed in slide outside of Snowmass

Scott Condon
the aspen times

A 25-year-old skier was killed in an avalanche Tuesday outside of the Snowmass Ski Area boundary, Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office patrol director Ann Stephenson said.

The victim was skiing with two male companions in a chute on the backside of the Sneaky’s portion of Snowmass when the slide occurred, Stephenson said. They were following proper backcountry protocol by having one person ski down at a time. The first skier had reached a safe point when the victim skied down and triggered the slide, she said.

“The companion had been located by the two witnesses and was reported to be deceased,” the sheriff’s office said in a press release.

The two other men were not caught in the slide and were uninjured. They exited the area and notified the Snowmass Ski Patrol about the accident. The ski patrol reported the incident to the sheriff’s office at 4:06 p.m. Stephenson said she didn’t know when the slide happened.

The recovery of the body was delayed until today because of the lateness in the day and concern for the safety of the rescuers, the sheriff’s office said. The recovery of the man’s body will be undertaken by Mountain Rescue Aspen with the assistance of the Snowmass Ski Patrol and Brian McCall, a forecaster with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. A team will assess the safety of the snow from the top of the chute, Stephenson said, then determine how to proceed with the recovery operation.

The victim’s name wasn’t released Tuesday night even though he was identified by his companions and his parents had been notified, according to the sheriff’s office. Pitkin County Deputy Coroner Audra Keith said it is her policy not to release the identity until she has seen the body.

Stephenson said the victim was living in Aspen for the winter.

The trio were skiing Sands Chute, which empties into the East Snowmass Creek drainage. The chute has a northwest aspect. Snow reportedly slid in about two-thirds of the gully.

There are several steep, narrow chutes off the backside of Sneaky’s that are popular with skiers and riders because they don’t require climbing to access them, according to Lou Dawson, a mountaineer, author and photographer from Carbondale. Skiers can cruise down Sneaky’s and leave the ski area to access the chutes. Sands Chute is farthest to the north, starting at an elevation of about 11,200 feet, he said. It provides about 1,200 vertical feet of skiing before reaching the East Snowmass Creek valley floor.

The skiing in the chutes outside of Sneaky’s is about as steep as Highland Bowl, Dawson said, but the difference is the chutes pinch down and any sliding snow gets channeled into a small area. “It’s what we call in avalanche parlance a terrain trap,” he said.

Avalanche forecaster McCall said conditions were stabilizing Monday and Tuesday after an avalanche warning on Sunday when a storm dumped several inches of wind-blown snow on the slopes. The avalanche danger remained considerable in the Aspen zone on Tuesday on northwest through east slopes and moderate elsewhere. McCall warned in his Tuesday report that old, persistent weak layers of snow below tree line could present problems.

“Triggered avalanches are still possible and they could be large in isolated areas,” McCall’s forecast for CAIC said.

The CAIC website reported a close call for four skiers last weekend near the Markley Hut in the Castle Creek drainage southwest of Aspen. One of the weak, lower layers of snow failed, according to the report.

“It was triggered on a steep northeast facing slope below tree line that caught and partially buried four skiers while they were skinning up the slope,” CAIC reported. “Two of them were able to self rescue and dig out their partners afterwards. No injuries occurred in this incident.”

The Pitkin County avalanche death was the fifth in Colorado this winter. A snowmobiler was killed in a slide in the Routt National Forest northeast of Meeker near a feature known as Sand Peak, the CAIC reported.

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