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.

The incident occurred on 7 January at 11,400 feet in East Vail, in the backcountry southeast of the Vail Ski Area. That area is accessible from the Vail summit. The CAIC reported the region to be at “considerable” risk with dangerous avalanche conditions earlier that day, warning skiers that “Careful snowpack evaluation, cautious route finding and conservative decision making” were essential.

The last incident at this location resulting in a death occurred just over 6 years ago on 4 January 2008. Six other deaths were reported in that area over the years. According to the CAIC, approximately one third of all US avalanche deaths occur in Colorado. Five people have died in avalanches in Colorado, Wyoming and Montana in the last two weeks. The CAIC preliminary report can be viewed here, and a CAIC photo of the incident scene is below.

Seibert Avalanche Scene at Vail

Tony Seibert, who had performed in several Warren Miller films, recently completed filming Miller’s 10th Mountain Division tribute, “Climb to Glory”. A Summit Daily report said that film was set to premier on 9 January at the Vilar Performing Arts Center in Beaver Creek. But that has been postponed to honor Seibert. A tribute version of the film has been created with a strong educational message.

Relatives say that Tony was proud to strap on the vintage gear his grandfather once wore for filming. He developed a new respect for the challenges faced by troops in the 10th Mountain Division, which was also founded by the NSP’s Minnie Dole.

Pete Seibert Sr. was originally from Sharon, Massachusetts and attended the New Hampton School in New Hampshire. He patrolled at Aspen before founding Vail with rancher and fellow 10th Mountain Division colleague, Earl Eaton, in 1962. Pete Sr. died in 2002 at age 77 from esophageal cancer.

While this incident occurred in the Vail backcountry, and not on terrain patrolled by Vail, the resort has had the spotlight on it in recent years following the January 2012 death of Taft Conlin. He was killed in an avalanche on Vail’s Prima Cornice trail, and a wrongful death lawsuit has been filed. Attorneys for Conlin claim that depositions show Vail ski patrollers did no avalanche mitigation work on the Prima Cornice trail that day, then later fabricated documents to claim they had. Vail denies those allegations.

Conlin’s parents, both Colorado veterinarians, say their only motivation for filing the lawsuit was to ensure that what happened to their son in the avalanche never happens to anyone else at Vail. They recently filed a motion seeking punitive damages based on the alleged false statements of Vail patrollers. The Conlins family is promising to donate any litigation damage award proceeds to charity. Court-mandated mediation in that case failed to reach a resolution in October 2013. That case is scheduled to go to trial in June 2014, with the integrity of Vail’s ski patrol documentation and accident investigation presented as key issues at trial.

Below is footage from another avalanche in that same East Vail Chutes area just before Christmas, where a backcountry skier was lucky enough to be saved by his brother within minutes after not being completely buried.

Tony Seibert’s death is another reminder of the extreme dangers posed by avalanches throughout Colorado, and at Vail specifically. Seibert was a well known extreme skier who grew up there. He attended Battle Mountain High School and was a 2012 graduate of the University of Colorado at Boulder. His friends say he was well aware of the risks and that he took precautions. The date for Tony Seibert’s memorial service has been tentatively set for 13 January at Eagles Nest, at the top of Vail Mountain. Funeral arrangements are pending.

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