Second skier death this week brings season total to eleven: On track for a record?

Categories: News, Sports

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Update: For the second time in less than a week, a skier has been killed while schussing the slopes at Keystone.

The death brings the total skier deaths this year in Colorado to eleven, just six shy of a macabre record set in 2008.

The Denver Post is reporting that 72-year-old Connecticut resident William Emberton was found dead on the black diamond Geronimo run off of Keystone's North Peak. Though he was reportedly wearing a helmet, the coroner's office says Emberton died from a broken neck and brain injuries. We've got calls into the coroner's office and will update the post with any more information.

Also, as noted in the comments, authorities have confirmed that Winter Park skier Christopher Norris was not on a closed trail at the time he died. The original story has been corrected with updated information.

Update, 1:25 p.m., February 8: Yesterday, we reported about the rash of skier deaths in Colorado this year -- nine of them by our count.

But after the post went live, we learned about yet another death yesterday, bringing the total to ten.

According to the Vail Daily, a 37-year-old Missouri man died yesterday after what the Eagle County Sheriff's Office is calling a "ski incident" at Vail. The man, who was wearing a helmet at the time, was found on the front-side black run called Berries; it's a relatively fast rolling stretch that filters down to the Avanti Express Lift. Calls left with Eagle County Sheriff's department were not immediately returned. We'll update this post if and when they get back to us. Look below for our previous coverage.

Original item, 3:59 p.m. February 7: On Saturday, 58-year-old Georgia resident Odo Lessacher collided with a tree in the glades between Keystone's Alamo and Prospector runs.

Lessacher is the third person to die from injuries at Keystone and the ninth skier to die in Colorado this season by our count.
Although the number of skiers dying on the mountain this year seems staggeringly high, officials with Colorado Ski Country USA -- which represents 22 ski areas in the state -- say that it's nothing out of the ordinary. On average, 34 skiers die from injuries suffered on-mountain nationally. Colorado has somewhere around a dozen deaths each year, with the winter of 2007-2008 being the worst, with seventeen deaths recorded.

So far this year, the following skiers and snowboarders have died on the mountain:

11/16 -- Evan Massini, twenty, a CU student died at Breck.

11/19 -- Prominent Vail doctor Charles Tuft, 62, was killed when he lost control on Gitalong Road, a beginner trail at Vail, and veered into an embankment where he suffered severe trauma.

1/1 -- Sean Jared Bender, 38, hit a tree on the Prospector run at Keystone. Though he was wearing a helmet, Bender died of blunt-force trauma to his chest.

1/19 -- Sydney Elizabeth Owens died on January 19 at Silverton Mountain, an expert-only ski area that requires skiers and riders to wear avalanche beacons and carry snow probes and shovels. Owens allegedly dropped a ski while on Riff's Run and then slid some 1,500 feet, dying of blunt trauma from the fall.

1/20 -- Austin resident Donald Hinckley died after falling head-first on a snow-covered stump at Copper Mountain, suffering neck trauma and a heart attack.

1/25 -- Vesselin Vlassev, a 54-year-old from Westminster, was found dead on Jacques' at Keystone without a helmet.

Two other deaths have occurred at resorts, both from in-bound avalanches and both on the same day. On January 22, Christopher Norris, 28, died in a slide on an open trail at Winter Park. Around the same time, a thirteen-year-old Eagle boy was killed when he and his friends were caught in a slide in a closed section of Vail's back bowls.

However, the Colorado Ski Association says deaths out-of-bounds or on closed trails do not count towards deaths at resorts.

Avalanches have claimed the lives of two others in Colorado this season. On January 18, a backcountry slide in Pitkin County took the life of 43-year-old Aspen skier Keith Ames -- an excellent skier by all accounts. And on January 21, Tyler Lundstedt, 24, was killed when he and his brother were caught in a backcountry slide while snowmobiling near Steamboat.

Jennifer Rudolph, spokeswoman for Ski Country USA, agrees that the last month or so has seen a concentrated number of skier deaths. But she says that, while tragic, the number isn't above average for Colorado ski areas, nor is there a deadly trend developing.

And though early season snow totals have been abysmally low, Rudolf contends that the patchy conditions around resorts aren't necessarily to blame. "[The deaths] are unfortunate, but they are also isolated," she maintains. "There's no specific cause or trend or rhyme or reason. Skiing is inherently risky, and skiers and snowboarders need to be responsible for their own safety."

Even so, Dave Byrd, spokesman for the National Ski Areas Association, admits that it has been an unusual snow year and that the infrequent storms have dangerously layered the snow in the backcountry.

"I can't stress enough that if you're going to ski or venture into the backcountry to check with forest and ski patrol first," he says. "Make sure you ski with a partner and have the right equipment."

Please. Listen to the man. Remember, this isn't Disneyland out there -- it's Mother Nature, and she can be a mean bitch. Don't go into the backcountry without a shovel, probe and beacon, even in places that seem safe and well-traveled, like Loveland Pass and Berthoud Pass. Riders are also increasingly relying on new technology, like the Backcountry Access Float 30 air bag that saved pro snowboarder Meesh Hytner from a backcountry slide near Montezuma on January 25. Check out the scary vid of her encounter below -- and be safe out there, friends:

More from our News archive: "Charles Tuft, R.I.P.: Emergency doctor dies on Vail Mountain's opening day."

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33 comments
seanswife
seanswife

correction:  for the record.  sean jared bender, 38, was killed at keystone 1/2/11 near 11:30 am ‘due to blunt force trauma to the chest'.  ski patrol found him after his collision with a tree.  He was alive and joked about hoping to ‘not be out for the season’. He was clear and told ski patrol that his chest & abdomen hurt.  He was alive for at least 45mins to an hour.  He was one of the ‘on track for the record’ skier deaths .  ‘on track’ ‘for the record’  it should not be ‘on track’ or ‘normal’.

 

Ski patrol decided to put him into a toboggan and ski him to the med facilities at the old keystone base.  if you were hit by a car, NO ONE would touch you until an ambulance was there to accommodate you in the most appropriate manner.  instead, sean was tobogganed down for 30 minutes where he was pronounced dead and i came to him within minutes  with our 9 month old daughter and he was still warm.  i know  that sean had a better chance waiting for the helicopter that was in route to retrieve him.  ski patrol is a bunch of kids who think they are in a ski movie and want a vacation from college.  they made the wrong decision.  who is in charge?  who makes the decisions? 

 

BTW to the person who said that skiiers take a risk and if they die, oh well...tell that to our daughter when she is old enough to understand why she doesn't have a dad.

 

drivers take a risk every day and people die in accidents every day.  to say that it's ‘on track’ or 'normal' to have a skiier death rate each year is ridiculous. does disney have a 'normal'  or ‘on track’ death of guests each year?  don't think so.  And the deaths are not typically from inexperienced skiers.  So to all of you who drive I70 religiously and have to get the best parking spot to show off your skills—beware, it can happen to anyone.

sean is an excellent skiier.  we've skiied together for over 10 years.  ski resorts will grant a pass to anyone whether or not they have a clue what they are doing.  it's like giving a 6 yr old car keys and slick conditions and saying 'have fun!"

 

we don't know if he hit a tree to avoid someone or something

 

sean is a loss to the whole world--he is better than you --more caring, more intelligent and always more respectful of life

 

skiing, whitewater rafting, crossing the street, swimming --they all have risks.  it's the risks that make you want to live.  however, the people taking care of us are not qualified.

 

so--to all of you, my life went from heaven to hell...sean's wife.maria

Pat
Pat

I found this blog after comme.nting on the 15 year old girl who died on Copper Mountain Feb. 20th. My brother is Don Hinckley as stated in the article who died Jan. 20th. He did NOT have a heart attack. He died from a 5.5ft tree stump, 24inches across, on the trail, that he collided with after stopping suddenly by a snow serpent (fallen tree re-rooting itself). The powder hid the stump and serpent. He went into neurogenic shock and had a C2 fracture. He was helmeted and an excellent skier. He skied Copper for 20 years. My point is this was preventable. Far East opened just before my brother went down and has been closed since. It was MLK weekend and Safety Awareness weekend. There were no changes in conditions except maybe pressure to open it There is no accountability to paying customers for their safety. The Colorado laws protect the ski resorts from liability. Big business does not have to clear slopes of these stumps so a death like my brothers ends up a statistic. If even one death is prevented by clearing these stumps, it should be done. Take a look at Far East when there is no snow!! See what you are skiing on and if you are not pleased, notify the resort.

William Breathes
William Breathes

Pat,

I would love to talk more about your brother. If you see this and would like to chat, shoot me an email at william.breathes at westword dot com.

Guest
Guest

Skiing can be dangerous. All these skiers knew the risks and they were willing to take their chances. Tough shit for them.

Jim Moss
Jim Moss

The answer is no. Just about average is how this winter is going to play out on the ski slopes. So if you believe that you will give away more newspapers by scaring people away from resorts is effective, it won't work.

That is OK, in the article you don't even have your facts right. The two inbound avalanche deaths were skiing in open terrain. All news reports after the initial ones have corrected that issue....but yours.

Nor can you blame the fatalities on conditions. It does not matter how much snow is on the ground when you hit that tree. Two of the fatalities were conditions related, the avalanche deaths.

Jim MossSki Area Operations Risk Management InstructorColorado Mountain Collegeski.law@gmail.com

cmack23
cmack23

Ease up, the legality of weed was never an issue at hand.  Its so terribly sad that these deaths have scarred a community.  Sarah Burke who also died in Utah of skiing died doing a phenomenal sport which so many enjoy and should.  Yet hers was different and shows that even people practically born to ski who ski everyday and train and train while taking precautions can die.  Instead the vast majority of skier/boarder deaths are from people who are out of control and not taking proper precaution and in some cases stupidity.

Many deaths are caused by trees and collision while on resort terrain. Generally speaking these cases are from people who are going way to fast and out of control.  The mountains are taking lots of steps to help ease this issue by adding extra safety patrols and on mountain staff but we as skier need to be aware of our abilities, speed, surroundings and other people on the mountain.

With regards to the avalanche deaths both on and off mountain maintained terrain again it is the issue of improper riding and snow conditions, and a lack of education for conditions. The 13 yo was a very sad case and while powder of ski movies is everybody's dream, he skid into closed terrain.  It's the same case in most avy's.  People need to ski with a buddy take some classes on avalanche and snow conditions.  Be equipped properly, most are not helmet, beacon, shovel probe at a bare minimum.  

All skiers should have helmets, adventure and ski.  As a footnote some of these sad and tragic deaths occur while people are living out their passions and limits and sometimes that is a sadly remarkable thing.

Salynda Fleury
Salynda Fleury

Christopher Norris was completly in bounds.  A wonderful father and husband was killed in an avalanche on an OPEN IN BOUNDS trail.  RIP Chris...this is wrong and I LOVE YOU!

SkierMedicalguy
SkierMedicalguy

Ok, The sad story about these deaths is how deaths are handled at Ski areas. Trauma patients die and don't come back. There are cases of surviving medical cardiac arrests. Seattle washington has a 50% survival rate from v-fib. But Trauma, survival after death is dismally low. The sad part is doing poor CPR to transport off the mountain confirms death. Then giving the family false hope by rushing them into an ambulance, and tie that up, while transporting a dead person to a hospital for a final $$$bill, to confirm the obvious,, they're dead. Advanced life saving measures should be done as soon as possible. If they don't work, they're not going to. Call the State police and a coroner and let the family start grieving. Instead, the patient is rushed off the mountain putting everyone at risk, and leaving the family chasing their hopes to a hospital where the obvious answer awaits.

Why, because, nobody wants the dead guy at the mountain. The right thing to do is cease resuscitative efforts. Give the family some respect.

Robert Chase
Robert Chase

So if I now ski fast, I will be admonished by the Ski Patrol.  As I understand it, none of these deaths resulted from collisions between skiers, and resorts are limited in their ability to compensate for visitors' poor decisions.  Those visitors do not expect to have to bring beacons, snow shovel/probes, or airbags to ski on maintained terrain, and resorts should be held liable when fatalities due to avalanches occur on open trails -- Christopher Norris was reported (by the DP) to have died "in on [sic] an inbounds, open trail".

davebarnes
davebarnes

Are helmets actually saving lives and reducing injuries?The data appear to be murky.

Jim Moss
Jim Moss

NO. The majority of people who died skiing the past three years were all wearing helmets.  See

Great article on why helmet laws are stupid                                                       http://rec-law.us/zeOaNH

Does being safe make us stupid? Studies say yes.                                          http://rec-law.us/Ao5BBD

National Sporting Goods Association reportsthat Helmet use at US Ski Areas increased during the 2009-10 ski season                                                                                                 http://rec-law.us/zZTzqa

Helmet death ignited by misconception andfamous personalities                http://rec-law.us/wfa0ho

Skiing/Boarding Helmets and what is the correctmessage                             http://rec-law.us/AzeCpS

To track the in-bounds fatalities go to: 2011-12 fatalities: http://rec-law.us/zndSec 201--11 see http://rec-law.us/xspfzc

William Breathes
William Breathes

I've found that a helmet protects me quite well. Maybe not from massive head trauma (which -- knock on wood -- i've never had), but from the more likely headache-causing culprits:

- tourists walking through the village with their skis on their shoulders turning quickly- idiots waiving with their ski poles while in a lift line- morons bringing the chair bar down on my head without giving any warning

not to mention being able to take a few small scrapes to the noggin while riding trees or not cutting my head open on a box in the park or splitting it if I fall on an ice patch.

small injuries like the ones I mentioned are common and probably wouldn't be reported to begin with. Someone simply calls it a day on the hill and takes an advil -- so calling data that shows that they reduce injuries "murky" seems to be a stretch. If you think about it: most of these serious ski injuries couldn't have been prevented with hockey goalie pads surrounded by steel armor, let alone a helmet. As I said in the post above: skiing is a very dangerous activity in the best of conditions.

Will it save me if I'm going full-speed into a tree? No. But is it smarter to wear one than to not wear one in such a dangerous sport? Pretty much every regular skier and rider who is on the mountain will tell you that common sense says: yes. Even my friends who don't wear helmets admit their are being stupid.

Michael Roberts
Michael Roberts

Interesting post, JP -- one we're going to make an upcoming Comment of the Day. Congrats.

jpkinney7
jpkinney7

Could Helmets give the skiier/snowboarder a false sense of immortality?   "Hey, I've got a helmet on my head.  I'm going to go super fast down this Double Diamond, Tree run!!! I am invincible!!!"

Know your limits people.

Crystal
Crystal

I agree. A helmet protects you from smaller injuries. I've fallen on an open groomed run and hit my head on hard parked snow. Ouch. The helmet saves the day in these instances. My helmet has protected me on several occasions. 

William Breathes
William Breathes

Thank you for catching that, it has since been corrected. 

cmack23
cmack23

Thanks Mr. Breathes, I found it stunning that these people kept saying helmets arent neccessary one after another.  Everybody needs to be safe out there, and have a great time, the mountains and skiing are a wonderful thing!

Jake
Jake

No helmet on this planet will protect the brain from slamming into the skull on impact.

cmack23
cmack23

True so ski without one because I am sure its much safer to hit a tree in a beenie than with padded protection #commonsense

cmack23
cmack23

Right, bottom line a helmet isnt a force shield, it still comes down to people skiing in control and in surroundings which tailor their capabilities.  Either way wearing a helmet vs. not is still probably a better idea.  The issue is MORE often then not people skiing out of control and in unsafe conditions.  You are certainly right though the helmet which goes on your frickin head will probably not protect your chest...genius

Guest
Guest

A Helmet is not going to protect you if you hit a tree with your chest. Most of those who were killed were wearing helmets. 

Jake
Jake

You are more likely to die from skiing than you are from consuming cannabis, yet skiing is legal.

Jake
Jake

You all are too funny.  Thanks for making my day! :)

Whatever
Whatever

Eleven people are dead, including a 13 year old boy. 

But no, the heartbreaking story is really about you and your cannabis cause.

Bart
Bart

All of the people who died while skiing were stoned.

Larry
Larry

Which is much more fun than dying of a heart attack at home or the office.

Snake
Snake

You are more likely to die at your computer than you are from consuming cannabis, yet posting idiotic blog comments is legal.

Houston AC Service
Houston AC Service

 Thank you for your comment in reply to Jake. Exactly my sentiment.

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