Avalanche victim died doing what he loved
VAIL, Colorado ” Jesse Brigham loved the mountains, and he loved to snowboard.
“As sad as it is, he left us doing what he loved best,” said his father, Chet Brigham.
Brigham, a 27-year-old Vail Valley resident, died Friday in an avalanche in the East Vail Chutes backcountry.
The Worcester, Mass., native was spending his third winter in Colorado. A licensed plumber, Brigham had taken a job at the new Arrabelle at Vail Square hotel as a maintenance man.
His father described him as personable, outgoing and generous, a man who had “a million” friends and no enemies.
“He’d light up a room with a smile when you’d walk in,” Chet Brigham said.
His sister, Allison Brigham, said Jesse was a very kind man who loved his family and friends.
“He went out of his way to do things for other people,” she said.
In the summers, Jesse would return to Worcester to work as a plumber. Last year, he traveled to New Orleans to help people in need of plumbing in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, his father said.
Snowboarding was Jesse’s passion. A couple of years ago, he went to Argentina to snowboard.
“He loved the pow,” his sister said.
Jesse never spoke of avalanche danger with his father, Chet Brigham said.
“He said he’d taken a tumble here and there,” Chet Brigham said. “But he had no fear.”
Friday’s avalanche ran for about 1,500 feet near an area called Charlie’s Death Chute, officials said.
The area around Charlie’s Death Chute has apparently seen deadly avalanches before. Fatal slides in 1992 and 1996 were very close to the location of Friday’s avalanche, said John Snook of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.
The depth of Friday’s slide at the crown varied from 2 to 7 feet, and the avalanche was about 130 feet wide, Snook said. The size of the slide was classified as a three on the scale of one to five, Snook said Saturday.
“It’s a decent-sized slide,” Snook said.
The slide started on an upper layer but quickly ran all the way to the ground, Snook said.
Brigham was snowboarding with two companions, identified as skier Justin Lozier, 24, of Vail, and snowboarder Jimmy Muguerza, 32, of Vail. All three men wore avalanche beacons and carried shovels and probes, officials said. At the time of the slide, the avalanche danger was rated as moderate with pockets of considerable danger.
Lozier and Muguerza had skied ahead of Brigham at the time of the slide, the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office said.
The avalanche was caught on helmet-camera video by one of Brigham’s companions, said Sara Cross of the Sheriff’s Office.
“We are using that as evidence,” Cross said.
Brigham was swept over a cliff and into trees, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. The slide carried him about 500 feet past his companions, Cross said.
Searchers found Brigham about 10 to 20 minutes after the avalanche, buried 6 feet in snow. They began CPR, but he was pronounced dead shortly thereafter. The cause of death was asphyxiation, county Coroner Kara Bettis said.
Vail Ski Patrol also responded to the avalanche.
The East Vail Chutes are outside the boundaries of the Vail Ski Area, but skiers access them by using Vail lifts and then hiking through a backcountry gate. The chutes drain back toward Interstate 70.
As many as 300 people per day ski and snowboard the East Vail Chutes, according to the Forest Service. The last avalanche-related fatality there was in 1996.
Longtime local skier Chris Anthony said the Charlie’s Death Chute area, between the Old Man’s and Tweeners areas, is skied quite a bit.
“It’s definitely one of the most popular spots,” he said.
The chute also can become very wind-loaded with snow, which can make it avalanche-prone, he said.
Anthony emphasized that the East Vail Chutes are truly out of bounds and carry all the risks that come with out-of-bounds skiing.
“We’ve just become a little too comfortable, and we have to remember, it is the backcountry, 100 percent,” he said.
Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or email@example.com.
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