Skier dies in East Vail Chutes avalanche
Rescuers estimate the avalanche was 700 feet wide, running 1,000 vertical feet
A skier was trapped and died in an avalanche Thursday afternoon at the East Vail Chutes, the popular backcountry area just outside Vail Mountain’s boundaries.
According to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center’s preliminary report on the accident, the skier exited Vail Mountain through a backcountry access gate and was skiing in an area known as Marvin’s when the slide occurred.
Companions and other riders in the area found the skier and performed resuscitation efforts but were unsuccessful, the CAIC reported. The avalanche occurred on an east-facing slope below treeline. Rescuers estimate the avalanche was 700 feet wide, and it ran 1,000 vertical feet.
“This is a very unfortunate accident and our thoughts are with the victim’s friends and family,” Eagle County Sheriff James van Beek said in a news release announcing the death.
The Eagle County Coroner’s Office on Friday morning identified John Kuo, 41, of Vail, as the skier killed in the slide. Kuo, who went by Johnny, was a regular among locals who frequent the popular “sidecountry” area that is accessible through a backcountry gate from Vail Mountain’s eastern boundary.
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The Eagle County Sheriff’s Office responded to a report of the avalanche around noon. Members of Vail Mountain Rescue and Vail Ski Patrol also responded to the scene to assist with recovery operations.
Siberia Bowl was closed at Vail as members of ski patrol worked to assist with the rescue operation.
Thursday’s fatality comes just days after three prominent Eagle County locals were killed in a massive slide in the San Juan mountains outside of Silverton while backcountry skiing.
Eagle County and the town of Eagle released a joint statement Wednesday identifying the three men killed in the slide, which occurred Monday afternoon, as Seth Bossung, Andy Jessen and Adam Palmer.
Bossung and Palmer were both Eagle County employees, and Jessen was a co-founder of Bonfire Brewing in Eagle. Both Palmer and Jessen also served on the Eagle Town Council.
Thursday’s death in East Vail marks the eighth avalanche fatality in the state this winter, already surpassing last season’s total of six.
The last time the state saw at least eight avalanche deaths in a season, per CAIC reporting, was the 2018-2019 season. Colorado’s deadliest avalanche season in recent memory was the 2012-13 season, which saw 11 avalanche deaths.
The East Vail Chutes, with their easy access from Vail Mountain’s eastern boundary, are a popular backcountry area, but that appeal has proven deadly over the years with numerous avalanches capturing skiers and snowboarders in the area.
Two skiers were buried in a slide in Jan. 2014 that killed one, while a skier and a snowboarder were buried and killed in seperate avalanches in the span of eight days in the area in Jan. 2008.
The Vail and Summit County zone along with the Aspen and Gunnison zones are currently under avalanche warning following heavy snowfall in the last 24 hours.
The CAIC reports: “A foot or more of new snow and strong winds have combined to overload our fragile snowpack. Large, wide, and deadly avalanches will be very easy to trigger. Natural avalanches can run long distances. Backcountry travelers should stay off of, and out from underneath slopes steeper than 30 degrees.”
The CAIC listed conditions for Thursday and into Friday at its highest level of danger for above treeline and near treeline with travel in avalanche terrain not recommended. Avalanche danger below treeline is listed as considerable, which says cautious route-finding and conservative decision-making is essential.
Those in need of emotional support are encouraged to reach out and access available resources to help with trauma and mental health challenges that may come with their grieving. A list of local organizations and providers can be found at eaglevalleybh.org/get-help-now, and financial assistance is available through Olivia’s Fund for anyone who may need it.
A webinar is also scheduled for Monday, Feb. 8, at 4 p.m. titled: “Understanding Grief. How to support your community, family, and yourself.”
In the webinar, Dr. Casey Wolfington and Dr. Teresa Haynes will provide an overview of the process of grief and how this presents across the lifespan. The clinicians will also discuss specific tools to provide support during this difficult time. This webinar will be recorded for dissemination in the community. If you have specific questions or topics that you would like covered, please send these questions/comments to email@example.com.
To register, go to: https://vailhealth.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_q51nxtzgQceF-XPB3ws0bw
Colorado Mountain Medical will also be hosting an open community support group focused on grief on Wednesday mornings from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. via zoom during the month of February. This group is intended for an adult population. Group size will be limited, so participants will need to register in advance.
To register, go to: https://vailhealth.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJEqc-CsqjIpGtFynRQxEcjs5-3rCZWiwMUR