Skiers who died in Colorado vary in age, ability |

Skiers who died in Colorado vary in age, ability

Ashley Dickson
Summit County Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colorado ” The record eight ski-related fatalities in Summit County that broke the 2002 record involved victims ranging from 11 to 68 years old, and included skiers and snowboarders of all ability levels.

While it is no secret that being on the slopes does involve a considerable amount of risk, Summit County Coroner Joanna Richardson does admit that this year’s numbers are considerably high.

“It’s all been unfortunate luck, and a lot of the victims were experienced skiers,” said Richardson. “Almost all the cases involved blunt force trauma to either the chest or head.”

Blunt force trauma is trauma that occurs when a body in motion comes in contact with an object with considerable force. There are many typical signs of blunt force trauma ” a lacerated aorta or other major vessel resulting in massive internal bleeding, lacerated organ, hematoma, contusions, crushed or severed spinal cord ” and only one of these major signs has to be present in order to cause death.

“Think of your organs like they are made of Jell-O, once your body hits an object those organs hit the inside of the body on the opposite side of the impact and can tear from the impact or from a twisting motion. ,” said Richardson, who added that most of the victims who died from blunt force trauma had broken ribs and other injuries. “It all depends upon kinetics of force how fast you are going, what you hit, and how hard you hit it.”

According to Richardson, several of those who died on the slopes in Summit County this year were wearing helmets at the time of their accidents. Although helmets do offer some protection against focal brain injury, they do not prevent death.

“We have all heard of people dying in car accidents while wearing seatbelts, the same thing is true for helmets. They are an added safety precaution and I endorse their use but if it is the perfect set of events that causes the trauma, and it’s your time, then there is nothing anyone can do. ” said Richardson.

One of the more bizarre cases of skier death this year involved a 28-year-old woman who crashed on the mountain only to walk away and die several days later. The victim suffered a vertebral artery dissection which caused a blood clot to form in the artery and travel. Over time, the clot moved up to the basilar artery where it caused a stroke leaving the young woman brain-dead.

According to the National Ski Areas Association, skiing is still statistically safer than other sports like swimming and cycling and the rate of skier fatality converts to .40 per million skier/snowboarder visits.

Exactly half of the 16 reported skier deaths in Colorado this year happened in Summit County, attracting a lot of national attention to one of the few counties in the state with four ski resorts.

“It kind of makes us look worse than we really are. It’s a matter of skier numbers and the fact that we have 4 ski areas,” ” Richardson said.

Local resorts continue to do all they can to advocate safety on the mountain, and encourage skiers and riders to be familiar with the Colorado Ski Safety Act before hitting the slopes.

Enacted by the Colorado legislature, the Ski Safety Act cites that it is the responsibility of the skier to be aware of the dangers associated with the sport, and in 2004 the Act was amended to include cliffs, extreme terrain, jumps and freestyle terrain as inherent risks on the mountain.

“We take safety very seriously and communicate the safety code and Skier Safety Act to all our guests,” said Kate Lessman, public information officer for Keystone Resort. “There are no real trends in skier fatalities but skier responsibility is very important.”

Programs like the National Safety Week along with slow zones, and increased ski patrol all help to eliminate danger on the mountain but at the end of the day safety will always be a much talked about topic.

“The awareness is there and preventative measures are taken by resorts throughout the season,” said Nick Bohnenkamp, communications manager for Colorado Ski County USA.

“Even if there were no skier deaths, safety would still be the most important topic,” Bohnenkamp added.

Jan. 3 ” 11-year-old Benjamin Trichler of the UK died after skiing into a tree at Breckenridge

Jan. 20 ” 33-year-old James McLean, a doctor from Kansas, died in a snowboarding accident at Breckenridge

Jan. 31 ” 40-year-old Michael Gruber of Dillon died from a head injury suffered the day before at Arapahoe Basin

Feb. 6 ” 61-year-old John McWethy, a retired ABC newsman from Boulder, died in a ski accident at Keystone

Feb. 15 ” 68-year-old Bob Guthrie of Silverthorne died several days after hitting his head in a fall at Arapahoe Basin

Feb. 19 ” 13-year-old Kenneth Joyce of Connecticut died after colliding with a tree at Keystone

Mar. 23 ” 23-year-old Jennifer Ash from Indianapolis suffered a vertebral artery dissection after falling on her snowboard at Keystone. Ash was later pronounced brain-dead after her injuries led to a stroke.

Mar. 30 ” 43-year-old Michael Howe from Kansas died after hitting a tree at Keystone.

Grand County ” One skier died after colliding with a tree at Winter Park

Boulder County ” One skier died from head injuries at Eldora Mountain

Gunnison County ” One skier died from head injuries at Crested Butte

San Miguel County ” One skier died after hitting a tree at Telluride

Routt County ” One snowboarder and one skier died after hitting trees at Steamboat

La Plata County ” One skier died after skiing off a headwall at Purgatory at Durango Mountain

Archuleta County ” One skier died after hitting a tree at Wolf Creek Ski Area

” The Denver Post contributed to this timeline

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