Recovery of avalanche victim called off again

By Troy Hooper
Real AspenFebruary 25, 2011
Authorities reached the site where a skier died in an avalanche on the back side of Snowmass Ski Area but had to turn back Thursday after darkness made their mission too dangerous to complete.

Eighteen members of Mountain Rescue Aspen, Snowmass Ski Patrol and the Colorado Avalanche Information Center broke up into two ground teams, a spotting team and a staging team and headed into the East Snowmass Creek backcountry in an attempt to recover Brandon John Zukoff's body.

Zukoff, 26, died skiing when he apparently triggered a slide Tuesday in Sand's Chute, a steep out-of-bounds run that backcountry skiers access from the edge of Sneaky's run at Snowmass Ski Area.
Brandon Zukoff

“A team from Snowmass Ski Patrol provided avalanche control earlier in the day,” according to a statement released by Pitkin County sheriff's deputy Alex Burchetta. “The control work … was done in an effort to reduce the risk of another slide prior to ground teams reaching the site. According to reports from the field, another slide was triggered during these operations prior to the ground teams’ arrival. This new slide ran the length of the Sand’s Chute reaching Zukoff’s body at the bottom. Teams were able to reach the avalanche site but were forced to suspend their operations due to darkness.”

The tragedy occurred as the lifts were closing Tuesday and the sheriff's office did not attempt a recovery then due to the late tim of day. A recovery was planned on Wednesday but was called off after snow safety experts determined the terrain was too treacherous and avalanche danger too great. A break in the weather provided authorities an opportunity to enter the area on snowmobiles at about 4 p.m. Thursday but they were unable to extricate Zukoff from the snow by the time night fell. A helicopter from Denver also had been called in yesterday but was unable to reach the area due to inclement weather. The recovery teams left the East Snowmass Creek drainage by 8:30 p.m. Thursday.

“The Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, Mountain Rescue Aspen and the Colorado Avalanche Information Center will continue to monitor weather conditions. Future recovery efforts are contingent upon the stability of the snowpack and favorable weather conditions. The National Weather Service has posted a Winter Weather Advisory for the area through 6 p.m. Saturday,” the deputy's press release stated.

Zukoff moved to Snowmass four years ago and worked at Timberline Condos and the Timbers Club. He was skiing with two friends when the avalanche occurred. They were not harmed in the slide.

Prior to Colorado, Zukoff hailed from Grand Blanc, Mich. He played football for Central Michigan University, where he had a full-ride scholarship and backed up offensive lineman Adam Kieft, who went on to play in the NFL for the Cincinnati Bengals. Zukoff eventually left his football scholarship behind to focus on a degree in commercial recreation and facility management. His degree is what led him here. At first, he worked for the Snowmass Village Recreation Center and Stonebridge Inn.

He was known for his generous spirit and he was passionate about the outdoors.

“That is the only consolation," his mother, Cindy Zukoff, told The Flint Journal in Michigan, "that Brandon did what he loved to do. ... He loved the mountain. He loved everything about it.”

In addition to his mother, Zukoff is survived by his father, William Zukoff of Croswell, Mich.; brother Billy, with whom he lived in Colorado; brother Brent of Chicago; and brother Bradley of Rochester, Mich; and three aunts, Diane Frazier of Grand Blanc, Donna Smith of Linden and Renee Michelson of Grand Blanc, Mich.

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