Inbounds avalanche at A-Basin kills one | VailDaily.com
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Inbounds avalanche at A-Basin kills one

Nicole Formosa
Special to the Daily/Brad OdekirkAn inbounds avalanche at Arapahoe Basin claimed the life of a 53-year-old skier Friday morning on the Pali Face. Summit County Search and Rescue personnel and Arapahoe Basin ski patrol were called off the mountain due to unstable conditions and will resume a search mission early this morning.
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ARAPAHOE BASIN – A 53-year-old Boulder man died Friday morning after he was caught in an avalanche while skiing the expert Pallavicini section of the Arapahoe Basin Ski Area.David Conway was pronounced dead at noon Friday, about an hour and a half after A-Basin ski patrollers found him in a debris field at the bottom of the slide. Summit County Coroner Joanne Richardson has not released a cause of death, pending further investigation. She said he owned his own construction company.Just before 10:30 a.m. Friday, the 300-foot slide fractured just above the First Alley trail, skier’s left of the Pallavicini Lift. The snow cascaded about 1,000 feet through a cluster of trees before stopping in a heaping pile of debris.A-Basin ski patrollers responded immediately and quickly found Conway, who was slightly exposed, according to Summit Rescue Group site commander Glen Kraatz.Patrollers immediately administered emergency care, then Conway was taken to the mountain’s base-area first-aid hut, where staff from St. Anthony Flight For Life and the Summit County Ambulance Service continued life-saving efforts.It is not known whether the Conway was alive when rescuers reached him.

He was found in the debris field at the edge of the trees and although his exact path isn’t known, someone’s chance of survival is usually worse if he or she is carried through a heavily gladed area, Kraatz said.”You’ve got an opportunity for a person to be washed into trees, rocks and so on,” he said.As of about 3:30 p.m. Friday, the ski area had not received any other reports of missing skiers or snowboarders, director of mountain operations Alan Henceroth said during an afternoon press conference.”This was an unlikely event that hasn’t happened in the time I’ve been here,” said Henceroth, who’s been at the mountain 22 years. “We’ve closed that area to prevent further incidents.”The Colorado Avalanche Information Center reported this was the first avalanche fatality at a ski area since Jan 9, 1975.The mountain is still investigating whether the man was part of a larger group of skiers and whether the avalanche was naturally or skier-triggered, but exact details are elusive because there are no known witnesses to the slide, Henceroth said.About half a dozen Summit Rescue Group searchers joined 15 ski patrollers and three avalanche dog teams to comb the 50- to 150-foot-wide debris field at the bottom of the slide.They formed a shoulder-to-shoulder probe line, searching for any signs of an avalanche path down which a victim could have been swept – skis, ski poles, gloves, even blood, Kraatz said.”You have to err on the side of maybe,” Kraatz said. “We were definitely up there with the feeling that we were doing everything we can if another person is caught.”

Conditions were wet, heavy snow that was getting sloppier as the thermometer rose.”There were chunks up there the size of Volkswagens,” he said, “there were chunks the size of footballs and basketballs.”The search was called off at about 12:45 p.m., when A-Basin officials determined the conditions posed too much of an avalanche risk to rescuers – specifically because of the warm weather.”You’re getting to a situation right now, where you could have a natural slide because of the heat,” Kraatz said at about 2 p.m.The Pallavicini area was open for skiers Friday morning and staff members had been on the run before the avalanche, Henceroth said.The Pallavicini chairlift was closed immediately following the slide, along with the expert East Wall terrain on the other side of the ski area.The remainder of the mountain was kept open.Most skiers seemed unaffected by the avalanche as business went on as usual at the Exhibition Lift, although some were slightly shaken.

Westminster resident John Stevens was about three-quarters of the way down the First Alley trail when he heard the avalanche.”I didn’t realize what happened until I saw it,” Stevens said. “At the most, I was 30 seconds ahead of that avalanche.”The Pallavicini lift and trails will be closed to the public on Saturday, but the remainder of the mountain will be open. The Nocturnal Tomatoes are still set to play from 1-4 p.m. in a free outdoor show.The search will be resumed as soon as conditions allow.Representatives from the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, Lake Dillon Fire Authority and the U.S. Forest Service were all on-scene throughout the morning and afternoon.Nicole Formosa can be reached at 970-668-3998, ext. 229, or at nformosa@summitdaily.com


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