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No ‘poor decisions’ made before avalanche

Tim Mutrie

ASPEN – He doesn’t like it, but Dick Jackson acknowledges that “dealing with the darkside” of living and playing in the mountains is part of his life and profession.During interviews with local media Wednesday, the owner of Aspen Expeditions noted the loss of friends Raoul Wille and Dave Bridges to mountainside tragedies. “There’s nothing you can do about what happened, but there’s everything you can do with how you deal with it. That, to me, is critical. You need to come from the heart,” he said.Jackson has released a report detailing the circumstances of an avalanche that killed a New Mexico man who was participating in an avalanche education course led by Jackson’s company in the Highlands backcountry Sunday afternoon.”That ‘if’ word will haunt any of us,” said Jackson. “And at this point, I’m reporting observations. We know the consequences, we know what happened.”John Jensen, 32, of Los Alamos, N.M., died of asphyxiation after sliding 3,500 feet and being buried for about 20 minutes. He was with a party of six in the Five Fingers Bowl area beyond the boundary of the Highlands resort.Jensen was accompanied by Aspen Expeditions’ head guide, Amos Whiting, of Aspen, another guide and three other participants. The avalanche broke as the group skied the second pitch of a pronounced rib off the east side of the Highlands Ridge, below a point known as the Thumb.The guides set a track as close to the northerly side of the rib crest as possible, aiming to avoid the potential dangers of the gully proper.”Backcountry conditions are something we cannot control; we can only assess,” Jackson said. “The only thing you can control is the terrain that you’re on. Terrain is the key. And that’s what the intention was, to stay on the crest of the rib.”When Jensen descended toward Whiting and another skier, according to Jackson’s report, he skied left of the track that Whiting set – nearer the gully’s gut. He lost his balance and fell. The impact triggered the avalanche in the gully proper and swept Jensen to the valley floor in a torrent.The others were out of harm’s way along the rib crest. “When there’s any event, especially of this nature, it’s too easy to be judgmental. … The result was what it was,” Jackson said. “Really, I don’t think there were any poor decisions made, at all. The backcountry is variable and the human factor kicks in,” Jackson added.The five other skiers located Jensen with avalanche transceivers and dug him out from under 4 feet of debris. They couldn’t revive him after nearly an hour of CPR.”Considering the amount of terrain that was covered, the actual rescue happened pretty quick. It’s also significant that only one person got caught because it does say a lot for skiing short pitches and being very much in touch with group management and skiing from safe island to safe island,” Jackson said.Jensen had a bachelor’s degree in laser optics and manufacturing and a master’s in mechanical engineering. His last job was with the Los Alamos National Laboratory, a sprawling research base in northern New Mexico. He was working on a hand-held device that will be used in the collection and tracking of forensic evidence, according to a laboratory bulletin posted on the Internet.Marie Caldwell, who worked with Jensen at Los Alamos, called him “a great guy. Easy, warm, personable. Nice to talk to.”Vail, Colorado


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