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. 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 the edge.
She had been skiing in a section of the Snowmass backcountry that is never open to the skiing public due to its inherent dangers. But people are known to ski there. 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 at the Hanging Valley Wall.
Avalanche investigators were unable to conclusively determine all facts about the events preceding the incident. They visited the site about 24 hours after Hileman’s body was found. At that point three avalanches had come to rest on the slope below, including the explosive-triggered avalanche on the December 27th; the avalanche involving Hileman; and a small event that was triggered by rescuers searching for Hileman.
There were no eye witnesses to the incident, but investigators were able to examine Hileman’s ski tracks descending through the Ship’s Prow Glade. She apparently skied to the bottom of the glade and onto the crown of a previous avalanche. That crown was directly below two small stands of trees, and when she passed through those trees and onto the crown, it gave way. Investigators concluded that Hileman likely triggered a portion of the crown on a 40 degree slope.
Colleagues of Patsy Hileman last saw her working the morning of the accident, at around 10:30 am. A member of the Snowmass patrol tried to reach her after 12:30 pm by radio, but did not get a response. The search was initiated at 12:45 pm, where a number of two-patroller teams split up and searched likely locations near where she would have been patrolling. One of those teams located Patsy below the Ships Prow cliffs at 1:23 pm, lying face down on a debris pile from the previous slide.
First aid was administered immediately by patrol paramedics in contact with a remote local physician, but they were unable to revive her. She died of to her chest and back.
According to the Aspen Daily News report, OSHA’s Denver office immediately launched an investigation following Patsie Hileman’s death. OSHA Area Director Herb Gibson said that after interviewing SkiCo staff and management, and consulting other agencies, OSHA decided that no actions warranting citations were found. The OSHA incident inquiry was concluded last week.
Friends and family that wish to contribute to the memory of Patsy Hileman are asked to sign the online guest book (at memorialwebsites.legacy.com/PatsyHileman) created in her name, where they can make contributions to the ‘Patricia Hileman Memorial Fund’. Proceeds will be used to create a public memorial in the Snowmass Village area commemorating her life.