Aspen-area men die in backcountry avalanche near Crested Butte on Saturday
The two men died in the Brush Creek area in a section known as Death Pass
Two Roaring Fork Valley men were killed Saturday in an avalanche in the East Brush Creek area near Crested Butte, the Mount Crested Butte Police Department confirmed Sunday.
Owen Green, 27, of Aspen, and Michael Goerne, 37, of Carbondale were getting ready for the Grand Traverse, a 40-mile backcountry ski race across the Elk Mountains, friends said Sunday. The men were planning to be partners in the race next month from Crested Butte to Aspen.
Green’s girlfriend, Kali Kopf, said Sunday the two “had been training together a lot” in the backcountry this winter.
Both athletes, Goerne and Green played Division I college lacrosse and coached the local high school and club teams.
“It is a huge loss for our school, for our lacrosse team, for really the community, and not just Aspen, but the whole Roaring Fork Valley,” Aspen High School athletic director Martha Richards said. “Mike and Owen both touched so many kids.”
Goerne founded Aspen High School’s lacrosse club team in 2006, and within two years, transformed the program into a varsity team.
In 2015, Goerne took the Skiers to the state title and was named Colorado State Coach of the Year.
Goerne’s impact on local youth extends from children in kindergarten to college graduates, said Aspen parent Ashley Ward.
Her husband, John Ward, also worked with Goerne, who coached both of their sons, Tyler, 16, and Treven, 12.
Off the lacrosse field, Goerne and the Wards became close family friends, Ashley Ward said.
“He’s one of the most incredible people I’ve ever met in my life,” Ward said. She added shortly after, “Everything he did, he did to the fullest. He lived life to the fullest.”
She recalled a recent conversation in which he explained his coaching strategy was to get to know each player personally and figure out what worked best for him individually.
“He is this person who puts his heart and soul and passion into everything,” Ward said.
Richards called Goerne a giver who never hesitated to help when called upon.
“He just kept giving out of the love for the game. He was always willing to step up and help,” Richards said. “Anytime I reached out to him, he was more than happy to help the high school with anything.”
Despite whether Goerne was coaching, Richards said she always saw him at high school games.
Outside his lacrosse involvement, Goerne was the business manager for the law offices of Balcomb & Green in Glenwood Springs.
He also was a coach at Sopris Crossfit and Roaring Fork Crossfit for a number of years.
Originally from Edina, Minnesota, Goerne previously worked at Jaywalker Lodge rehab center in Carbondale for nearly 11 years.
Also an accomplished lacrosse player and coach, Green worked as a group sales specialist for Snowmass Tourism.
Kopf described Green as “the most kind-hearted person I’ve ever met.”
Kopf, who also lives in Aspen, said Green was fun-loving and full of life, “always up for an outdoor adventure or a movie night in.” He was “an avid fly-fisherman, traveler and best friend.”
“He made an impact on every person he crossed paths with,” Kopf wrote via text. “He made me a better person every day and the four-plus years I spent with Owen were the best of my life.”
Green was from Atlanta and worked in the travel and tourism industry for about five-and-a-half years at Exclusive Resorts and The Residences at The Little Nell prior to Snowmass Tourism.
Green was promoted from online marketing coordinator to group sales specialist last summer.
“Owen was an amazing person with a bright future. He was well-loved and in love,” Snowmass Tourism Director Rose Abello wrote via email.
Abello said Green was “thriving” at work and within his new sales position.
“Just this week, I raced back from a meeting to share with him all of the compliments I had heard about him from various hotels and lodges in Snowmass,” Abello said. “Owen’s can-do attitude and winning personality were absolutely infectious.”
“He so positively impacted the entire organization. Our hearts at the town of Snowmass Village are simply broken.”
Green and Goerne were reported missing just before 8 p.m. Saturday, according to a news release from Mount Crested Butte Police Department. Crested Butte Search and Rescue sent a team into the field.
“At approximately 10 p.m. tracks were discovered leading into a fresh avalanche field near the area known as Death Pass. No tracks exiting the slide were found and faint beacon signals were located in the slide area,” according to a news release. “Shortly after midnight, it was determined conditions were too adverse to conduct a recovery operation.”
On Sunday morning, a team of six Crested Butte Search and Rescue members was airlifted to the scene by helicopter.
Another team of five to six members, including representatives of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center and the Crested Butte Avalanche Center, along with three Crested Butte Mountain Resort ski patrollers, entered the area by ground to ensure the area was safe for recovery efforts. According to the CAIC’s preliminary report, the slide occurred at about 9,600 feet.
The air transport team quickly found the bodies as avalanche beacon signals transmitted their location. They were about five feet below the surface, a police department spokeswoman said.
The men’s bodies were extracted around 1 p.m. and about two hours later they were transported by the team to the helicopter landing zone at Brush Creek, police said.
The CAIC said in an avalanche advisory over the weekend that the strong storm Thursday dropped as much as 2 feet of dense snow and avalanche conditions remained dangerous in the central and southern Colorado mountains.
In an advisory issued Sunday morning, the state agency warned that people “may even be able to trigger very large, very dangerous avalanches that break deeper in the snowpack. If you trigger one of these deeper avalanches it will most likely be inescapable.”
In January, Arin Trook, who was well-respected in Aspen for his educational work with the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, died in a backcountry avalanche. Trook, 48, died after he was skiing and got caught in a slide near Ashcroft.
Aspen Times sports editor Austin Colbert contributed to this report.