Avalanche kills man at The Canyons
December 24, 2007
A Sunday avalanche at The Canyons killed a Colorado man and critically injured an 11-year-old boy who were skiing in the vicinity of an expert run called Red Pine Chutes, an avalanche forecaster said.
"The avalanche was all in bounds," Utah Avalanche Center forecaster Drew Hardesty said in a telephone interview Monday.
The slide occurred at 11:17 a.m. south of the Square Top peak and was 175 feet wide and between three and five feet deep, Hardesty said.
"[Patrollers] know the area intimately and they went out and threw 170 pounds of explosives on that slope the day before, and they felt good about it so they opened it," he said about the Ninety-Nine 90 lift at The Canyons, which accesses Red Pine Chutes.
The man killed in the avalanche was 30-year-old Jesse R. Williams, of Grand Junction, Colo., said Bill Bruchak, ski patrol director at the Powderhorn ski resort in Colorado, where Williams worked as a volunteer ski patroller.
"[Williams] was an awesome guy, an awesome father and an awesome husband," Bruchak said Monday.
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Williams was likely skiing with two friends when the group triggered the slide near the top of the run, Hardesty explained, adding that several people may have witnessed the avalanche.
"There were three that were caught and one of those guys hit a tree and died. There were some thoughts that they had been in the backcountry and ducked back in bounds and triggered the slide," he said. "Down at the bottom was a father and son. The father was partially buried and the son was completely buried."
The man’s body was recovered from the slide within a few minutes of ski patrollers arriving on scene, according to The Canyons spokeswoman Libby Dowd, who added that the boy was rescued almost 30 minutes later.
The boy’s condition was beginning to stabilize at Primary Children’s Medical Center on Monday, said Summit County Sheriff Dave Edmunds, who wouldn’t release the name of the Utah child.
Edmunds said the boy is not related to the man who died in the avalanche.
The Canyons Managing Director Mike Goar said the area where the slide occurred was "skied heavily" on Saturday.
"We certainly felt safe today to open it," Goar told reporters Sunday. "Conditions change sometimes by the minute."
But an avalanche fatality within the boundaries of a ski resort is extremely rare, Edmunds said.
"It never happens," Hardesty concurred. "It’s just a tragic, tragic situation."
People skiing within the boundaries of a resort are not expected to carry avalanche rescue equipment, he said.
"We don’t rate the danger for the ski areas," Hardesty said.
But avalanche danger in the backcountry Sunday was considerable, according to forecasters.
The death was the first avalanche fatality in Utah this season, Hardesty said.
"The event today is a rare and unfortunate accident," Goar said in a press release. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and everyone involved."
Meanwhile, Wolf Mountain Resorts Managing Partner Kenny Griswold owns most of the ski terrain at the resort that he leases to The Canyons, which is owned by the embattled American Skiing Company. With officials at the resort entwined in several high-profile lawsuits and an ownership dispute, Griswold said the staff was not prepared to operate the resort safely this year.
"This has always been my worst fear, that the resort would not be equipped to open up safely this season," Griswold claimed in a telephone interview from his home in Southern California. "There is nothing more important than the safety of our guests. If [The Canyons does not] have the proper experience and staff, they should not be running the resort."
But American Skiing Co. President and Chief Executive Officer B.J. Fair rejected Griswold’s allegations.
"It’s a ridiculous statement," Fair said about Griswold’s claim that a "skeleton crew" is operating The Canyons.
’06-’07 Utah Avalanche Facts: 88 human-triggered avalanches; 43 people were caught in avalanches in Utah; 17 people were buried or partially buried; nine victims were injured and four were killed; Four Utahns also died in avalanches in Idaho, Montana and Alaska