Snowboarder and skier die at Highlands, Snowmass

Burnt Mountain incident first fatal avalanche in Colorado this season

By Troy Hooper
Real AspenJanuary 18, 2012
Two men died Wednesday in separate accidents at Aspen Highlands and Snowmass.

A ski patroller alerted authorities at 1:18 p.m. that a skier randomly came across an unconscious snowboarder who had collided with trees in Deep Temerity at Aspen Highlands. The 30-year-old victim, Gabriel Lee Hilliard, is believed to have struck a tree, then continued on to strike a second tree where a branch impaled the left side of the boarder's chest, according to the Pitkin County sheriff’s and coroner's initial investigation.

CPR was performed but Hilliard was pronounced dead at the scene.

The coroner said Hilliard lived in Aspen but was originally from West Virginia.

Less than a half an hour after the report of that tragedy, the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office learned that a man was injured after he was caught in an avalanche on Burnt Mountain, which is located outside of the ski area boundary adjacent to the Snowmass Ski Area. At about 2:50 p.m., the 43-year-old man was pronounced dead.

Aspen residents are identifying the victim as longtime local Keith Ames.

Officials, however, have not publicly identified the avalanche victim.

"An investigation done by the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office revealed three acquaintances had met at Snowmass ski area and decided to ski together," Deputy Jesse Steindler wrote in a press release. "Witnesses to the incident reported the 43-year-old male dropped in from a ridge above, knocking loose a section of snow. When the skier came to rest at the bottom of the 25-yard-long section, the snow caught up to him and buried him. Bystanders on scene had to dig the subject out from under the snow, which took approximately 10 minutes, while others on scene contacted 911 [at about 1:45 p.m.]. Snowmass Ski Patrol arrived on scene while CPR was being administered to the patient by the bystanders. ... Mountain Rescue Aspen and Snowmass Ski Patrol worked together under adverse conditions to remove the deceased from the mountain."

The incident is the first fatal slide in the state this season, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

Avalanche danger in Aspen on Wednesday was rated as considerable to moderate depending on the slope.

"Dangerous avalanche conditions still exists in the backcountry of ... Aspen," the Colorado Avalanche Information Center reported. "... It has been a dry winter so far, but you will want to keep that powder fever in check this week as the potential for both natural and triggered avalanches, some of which may be large and destructive, exists on many steep slopes. Careful route finding and terrain selection will be mandatory for safe backcountry travel."


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Ski Cooper n/a n/a closed
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