Category Archives: Accident Investigation

Patroller and Avalanche Expert, Darren Johnson, Triggers Slide that Kills Him

Yellowstone Club ski patroller and avalanche expert, Darren Johnson, triggered an avalanche near Cedar Basin that swept him to his death. Johnson was in a 4-member group doing avalanche research on 19 January in the southwestern Montana area near Big Sky. Having concluded 23 stability tests over 4 hours of research that late morning and early afternoon, Johnson was well aware of the risk of jumping onto what the group had determined was an unstable wind-loaded slope with a “Considerable” rating for avalanche risk, but Continue reading Patroller and Avalanche Expert, Darren Johnson, Triggers Slide that Kills Him

Wolf Creek Patroller Colin Sutton Killed in Backcountry Avalanche

Wolf Creek Ski Area Patroller Colin Drew Sutton was killed in a backcountry avalanche incident on 4 March 2014.

March 2014 Conejos Peak Avalanche Scene

According to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC), Sutton was in a group of four patrollers from Colorado’s Wolf Creek that were transported via helicopter to Pt. 12,505, which is approximately one mile west of Conejos Peak, and around 16 air miles SE of the Wolf Creek area where they typically Continue reading Wolf Creek Patroller Colin Sutton Killed in Backcountry Avalanche

Vail Founder’s Grandson Killed in Chutes Avalanche

The grandson of Vail’s Founder was killed in an avalanche in out-of-bounds terrain at the East Vail Chutes. Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) investigators were diverted from their study of a 2 January slide at Breckenridge, where there were no injuries, to the Vail scene.

Tony Seibert, 24, was killed in the Vail incident. He was the grandson of Vail founder Pete Seibert, and the son of Terry and Pete Seibert Jr. There were four others skiing with Seibert, one of whom was also injured. Continue reading Vail Founder’s Grandson Killed in Chutes Avalanche

Santiam Pass Patroller Killed in Solo Mount Hood Ascent

Long-time Santiam Pass ski patroller, Dr. Kinley K. Adams, was killed in a solo ascent of Mount Hood on 22 June 2013. Adams went missing on the mountain at some point after leaving Mount Hood’s Timberline Lodge at around 12:30 am that day. Mount Hood Leuthold Couloir Summit Route

He had previously made the ascent of Hood a number of times and was expected back in Salem, Oregon, that day by 4 pm, where he lived and worked as a dentist. A search began when he did not return. His body was not discovered until Saturday, 29 June, and his remains were transported down the mountain by rescuers that Sunday evening. Continue reading Santiam Pass Patroller Killed in Solo Mount Hood Ascent

SkiCo Cleared by OSHA in Snowmass Patroller’s Death

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has cleared the Aspen Skiing Company (SkiCo) of any wrongdoing in its inquiry into the death of ski patroller, Patsy Hileman. Snowmass Ski Patrol SkiCo sources said in an Aspen Daily News report that they have no plans to change any policies in response to the incident.

Patsy Hileman, a 26-year veteran of the Aspen Ski Patrol, died in an avalanche on 30 December 2012 in the Ship’s Prow Glade, a permanently closed Snowmass backcountry skiing area. Hileman appears to have been skiing alone and inadvertently triggered a portion of the “crown” from a previous avalanche that pushed her off Continue reading SkiCo Cleared by OSHA in Snowmass Patroller’s Death

Colorado’s Worst Avalanche in 50 Years Claims Lives of 5 Industry Pros

Highlighting the danger inherent to backcountry boarding and skiing, five industry professionals were killed in an avalanche at Loveland, the most tragic Colorado incident in 50 years. All were part of the Rocky Mountain High Backcountry Bash, an event that was put-on to help fund avalanche safety and the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC).

2012 Loveland Avalanche Incident

According to a report from the CAIC, a backcountry touring party of six, on splitboards and skis, was caught in an avalanche in the Sheep Creek area near Loveland Pass. According to the Clear Creek County Sheriff’s Department (CCC SD), the avalanche occurred on Saturday, 20 April 2013 at 1pm, on the north-northeast aspect of the Sheep Creek drainage of Loveland Pass, along US 6.

Four of the riders and one skier were killed. Each of those fatally injured was an expert boarder or skier, and was using the latest avalanche gear. Ski-Patrol.net analysis of CAIC data has found that 50% more people have been killed in the 2012-2013 season than the average of the preceding 3 seasons in Colorado. We have also found an alarming statistic that may be emerging in CAIC fatality data. While only 19.1% of skiers died (14 of 73) after being caught in an avalanche over the last 4 seasons, 37.93% of boarders died (11 of 29) after getting caught in an avalanche. Continue reading Colorado’s Worst Avalanche in 50 Years Claims Lives of 5 Industry Pros

Ski Patrol Volunteers Stuck in Legal Limbo

A new Denver Post report highlights the legal limbo that well-informed ski patrollers find themselves in when participating in rescue operations beyond the boundaries of resorts where they serve the skiing and boarding public.
Backcountry Patrolling
While many resorts allow their volunteer and paid patrollers to participate in rescues outside area “boundaries”, some Colorado resorts are washing their hands of the liabilities resorts may otherwise bear – even notifying paid patrollers that they are “off the clock” when they participate in off-piste rescues, working as “volunteers”. Back country public safety officials at the local, regional and national levels are now scrambling to plug that risk gap so patrollers are able to do their dangerous work without bearing the universe of liability, life and health risks personally Continue reading Ski Patrol Volunteers Stuck in Legal Limbo

NSP Responds to Denver Post Report on Resort Accident Investigation Conflict of Interest

The NSP has endorsed a response to the series of articles published by Denver Post reporter Karen E. Crummy. An NSP member news release on its Web site directs patrollers to a response by Dan Whiting, Chief Accident Investigator at Wolf Creek Ski Area, and NSP Executive Director Tim White has released an official NSP response. Both are posted on the “Club Colorado” blog. The YouTube video that accompanied the Whiting response is included here. The NSP and Wolf Creek responses, however, appear to miss the “conflict of interest” point of the Post series.

The Denver Post report criticizes the practice of resort accident investigations becoming de facto legal findings, and the fact that Ski Patrol representatives Continue reading NSP Responds to Denver Post Report on Resort Accident Investigation Conflict of Interest

Denver Post Publishes Scathing Review of Skier Safety

The Denver Post has published a three-part series of articles offering a scathing review of the skiing industry, with a focus on Colorado ski areas and “ski law”. Breckenridge Patrol

The first article, “Colorado system for investigating ski accidents raises concerns“, highlights the high degree of control that ski patrol and mountain management have over accident investigations on resort-owned and leased property.

The second in the series, “Colorado ski industry enjoys protection from law, waivers“, attempts to demonstrate that through effective lobbying, particularly in Colorado, resorts have been able to focus on limiting their exposure to liability through legislation, reducing the need for resort operators to Continue reading Denver Post Publishes Scathing Review of Skier Safety

Last First Tracks: Snowmass Memorial Held for Patsy Hileman

A memorial was held on 5 January for Patricia Mae “Patsy” Hileman of Snowmass Village, Colorado. Patsy, a 26-year veteran of the Aspen Ski Patrol, died in an avalanche on 30 December in the Ship’s Prow Glade, a backcountry skiing spot at Aspen’s Snowmass area. The memorial service celebrating her life was held on at the Elk Camp restaurant at Snowmass Mountain. Snow Mass Ship's Prow Approach

Hileman appears to have inadvertently triggered a portion of the “crown” from a previous avalanche that pushed her off the edge. She was skiing in a section of the Snowmass backcountry that is not explicitly open to the skiing public due to its inherent dangers. A previous avalanche at that location had been triggered with explosives by the patrol on 27 December 2012, three days before Hileman’s incident. While the avalanche was very small, it appears to have been of sufficient size to sweep Hileman, an expert skier familiar with that area, off the cliff’s edge. Continue reading Last First Tracks: Snowmass Memorial Held for Patsy Hileman

Casper Ski Patrol Sued by Parents of 5-Year-Old Killed in 2010 Incident

CASPER, Wyo. – A lawsuit has been filed in Wyoming’s Natrona County District Court against the City of Casper and the Casper Mountain Ski Patrol by the parents of a 5-year-old that was killed on Christmas Eve in 2010. Wyoming’s Spence Law Firm is representing the family. Gerry Spence, the firm’s legendary founder, is a civil rights attorney with a reputation that is well-known nationally.

Hogadon Ski Area
Hogadon Ski Area

Elsie Johnson was killed two years ago by a snowboarder, Craig Shirley, who also died in the incident at Hogadon Ski Area. Elsie and her mom, Kelli Johnson, were reportedly skiing on Dreadnaught, an expert run, and had stopped in the center of the trail when Shirley collided with them. Kelli Johnson was also seriously injured in the accident, and reportedly has no memory of the incident. Elsie Johnson and Craig Shirley, 23 years old, both died of blunt force trauma. Continue reading Casper Ski Patrol Sued by Parents of 5-Year-Old Killed in 2010 Incident

Thanks to a Few Friends and the Crystal Mountain Patrol, Emily Anderson Lives to Ski Again

Emily Anderson was enjoying one of the best runs of her life on more than 3 feet of fresh powder at Crystal Mountain in Washington on 18 December. Suddenly, everything changed. Emily could literally feel and hear a massive fissure form and break loose, triggering an avalanche. According to Emily, “You know, you hear a little pop when it starts to go.” Within seconds Emily was pushed into a tree and “encased”, unable to move in a seated position under several feet of snow. She had no transponder or avi air supply, and there was no indication that anyone had been on the trail. Ski Patrol “avi” experts know that only one in 3 survive under those circumstances. Emily noted in the ABC report, “I felt alone, like this could be it.” She added, “I’m very lucky. Everything about it went my way; that’s for sure.” Continue reading Thanks to a Few Friends and the Crystal Mountain Patrol, Emily Anderson Lives to Ski Again

Obituary: Body of Former Stevens Pass Patroller Recovered from Mount Rainier

The body of Nick Hall, 33, was recovered from Mount Rainier on 5 July 2012. Hall perished in a 2,600′ fall onto Rainier’s Winthrop Glacier from 13,800′ while rescuing climbers from Emmons Glacier on 21 June. Hall had just placed the 4 injured climbers from Texas into a rescue helicopter for their evacuation, when a gust of wind pushed him over the edge. He was in the process of securing an empty litter to the helicopter prior to departure.

Rangers made it to the lower incident scene that day and attempted recovery then, and again on 28 June, but had to call-off the missions due to Avalanche danger, high winds and unfavorable weather conditions at the 11,000’+ location.

Hall had been a climbing Ranger on Mount Rainier for four years. Six rescue workers from the 214th Air Regiment of Joint Base Lewis McChord used a Chinook helicopter with the assistance of a Hughes 530 from Olimpia’s Northwest Helicopters for the evacuation of Hall to Sunrise. He was then transferred to an ambulance for transport to the Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office. Preparations had been made following the incident to secure him in an anchored litter for later transport. Avalanche rescue dog, Cirrus, from Chrystal Mountain Ski Patrol was used to locate the body under several feet of recent snow. Cirrus is owned by Crystal patrollers Andrew and Michelle Longstreth. Continue reading Obituary: Body of Former Stevens Pass Patroller Recovered from Mount Rainier