Vail Daily’s Don Rogers: An avalanche of pain, questions
Vail, CO, Colorado
First, let’s count a few blessings. That’s awfully hard to do after this tragedy felt throughout our valley and beyond. But the in-bounds avalanche Sunday on the front side of Vail Mountain easily could have taken all those boys it caught, instead of one.
Second, give some comfort to the boys who lived. Survivor’s guilt is normal. But this was an accident, a rare and freaky one. The kids thought they were OK. Their families said they followed tracks after entering at Prima’s open lower gate. The upper gate was closed.
They ducked no ropes, authorities said, although initially the Forest Service and the Colorado Avalanche Information Center erroneously reported they had.
The authorities remain firm that the accident happened in a closed area. But the Sheriff’s Office’s report on their investigation has yet to be filed.
Murkier is what signals a closed area when one enters lower at an open gate and slips to the side. How far do you have to go to be in the closed area when there are no ropes flanking the runs? How do you know, really, following the tracks of others?
Lots of adults make what later would be called a big mistake with the benefit of hindsight. How about at age 13, seeing where others have gone? Must be safe enough, right?
Ambiguity still clouds a good understanding of exactly what happened. The boys and their families insist they had little idea they were in a danger zone.
And naturally, there are a lot of questions about this rarest of the rare, a deadly avalanche inbounds on the front side of Vail Mountain. Has this ever happened before?
People are asking us lots of questions, like why the lower Prima gate was open if the upper part was deemed dangerous? What avalanche control work was done, or not done, in an area relatively easy to access from the lower run, as evidenced by the tracks the kids followed?
Perhaps the incident report will make more of this clear. Company spokespeople understandably are careful in comments to the press, believe it or not in large part out of consideration for the family. The press has no special powers to make them give more detailed answers to us. But they do have to answer investigators, and we will have access to their reports and other legal records.
Meantime, we parents who have kids who are or once were 13 understand all too well, though we’ve been spared the agony of Taft Conlin’s family. Pray no one has to endure that ever again.
This was the cruelest of Mother Nature’s lessons. She is incapable of mercy.
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