Ski safety study underway in Eagle, Summit counties |

Ski safety study underway in Eagle, Summit counties

Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY – U.S. Forest Service snow rangers and ski patrollers in Colorado are in the middle of a snow safety review. The study was of triggered by an investigation into the wet snow avalanche that killed David Conway at Arapahoe Basin on May 20.”The goal is to look at (the plans) and see how well they address not only wet snow and wet slab conditions, but all conditions,” said Joe Foreman, the Forest Service winter sports expert based at the Dillon District in Silverthorne. “If we find there’s a problem, we’ll go back and address it. In light of the accident, we’re going to look at everything.”Foreman is reviewing the plans for ski areas in the eastern part of the White River National Forest, encompassing Summit and Eagle counties. Aspen-based snow ranger Jim Stark is doing the same for the ski areas in the western zone, including the Aspen resorts. The Dec. 1 deadline for the review was set by Regional Forester Rick Cables, with the aim of making any needed updates before the start of the season. Stark said the direction from the regional office was to consider warm weather” snow safety procedures. The Aspen areas have warm-weather rules in place, based in part on avalanche map that identify potential hot spots, Stark said. Those maps pinpoint areas that may have to be closed early due to changing weather and snow conditions. The major Aspen areas are at lower elevations, where warm temperatures can be a more significant factor than at higher ski areas.The deadly May avalanche on A-Basin’s Palivacinni terrain marked the first time a skier was killed by a slide within the boundaries of ski resort in Colorado in 30 years. Conway died of blunt trauma head injuries despite efforts by rescuers to revive him when he was found about 30 minutes after he was caught by the slide.While releasing the results of the A-Basin investigation this summer, White River National Forest Supervisor Maribeth Gustafson said the unusual nature of the rare, fatal in-bounds avalanche required study to ensure that the agency is administering ski area permits to the best of its ability. Public safety is “the No. 1 concern,” she said. Gustafson said that A-Basin ski patrollers “fulfilled the spirit and intent of the ski area’s snow safety plan,” and that the existing plan and procedures met all existing standards for review and approval by the Forest Service.Ski injury attorney Jim Chalat, speaking on behalf of Conway’s family, said last week the family is still considering whether or not to take legal action.Vail, Colorado

Support Local Journalism