Two men died Wednesday on Aspen area mountains. A 30-year-old snowboarder collided with a tree at Aspen Highlands, in the Canopy Cruiser area of the mountain. He was wearing a helmet. Ski Patrol reports that he was unconscious and unresponsive at the time. Attempts to revive were unsuccessful and he was pronounced dead at the scene.
The Aspen Times is reporting the man as Aspen resident Gabriel Lee Hillard, who previously worked in the restaurants for the ski company, but was not a current employee. The Pitkin County Sheriff’s office reports that he was apparently riding alone at the time when he hit a tree, and then struck another tree and was impaled by a branch in his chest.
The second death was at Snowmass, outside of the ski area boundary in the Burnt Mountain area. Patrol was asked by the sheriff’s office to act as the first responders. A man was buried in an avalanche. Other skiers helped dig him out and started CPR. Snowmass Ski Patrol was unable to revive him and pronounced him dead at the scene. The Aspen Times is reporting the skier as a longtime local, 43-year-old Keith Ames.
The Aspen Skiing Company issued this statement: “We are saddened to report two tragic incidents today in the Aspen/Snowmass area. All of us at Aspen Skiing Company are deeply saddened by these losses and our sympathies go out to friends and families of the victims.”
The death near Snowmass Village is the first Colorado avalanche-related fatality of the season, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, who has an accident investigation team on site today. The website reports, “Our condolences go out to family and friends.”
The CAIC also writes that avalanche danger in the Aspen area is moderate to considerable. “Light snow and persistent west-southwest winds continue to generate fresh wind slabs on north through east to southeast aspects, which are resting on a variety of weak layers. Triggering a storm or wind slab can dig into the old weak layers to create a slide large enough to bury you. Thorough terrain evaluation, cautious route finding, and conservative decision-making are essential for safe backcountry travel.”