At least 11 skiers were killed in traumatic crashes at Colorado’s 26 ski areas this season.
That is about the average number for a ski season – “about” because it’s difficult to learn when and how skiers and snowboarders die in bounds at the state’s ski areas.
Ski areas are not required to share information about deaths that occur on ski runs, just as they don’t have to share details about accidents or injuries. (A recent legislative effort to require ski areas to report annual fatalities and injury data, as well as provide skiers with detailed safety plans, failed in a committee vote in April.)
The Colorado Sun surveyed 16 county coroners, asking about skier and snowboarder fatalities at area resorts. Sometimes, local coroners will release identities and causes of death for skiers at resorts. Sometimes, they do not. (None of the 37 states with ski areas require resorts to report annual deaths or injuries.)
Coroners or law enforcement in these counties reported no fatalities at their local ski areas: Chaffee (Monarch), Grand (Winter Park, Granby Ranch), Gunnison (Crested Butte Mountain Resort), La Plata (Purgatory, Hesperus), Lake (Ski Cooper), Mesa (Powderhorn), Mineral (Wolf Creek), Routt (Steamboat), San Juan (Silverton Mountain, Kendall Mountain) and San Miguel (Telluride).
Six county coroners – in Boulder, Clear Creek, Eagle, Garfield, Pitkin and Summit counties – did handle deaths involving skiers and snowboarders at local ski areas.
The 22 ski areas that belong to the Colorado Ski Country report fatalities to the trade group, which shares information upon request. But not much information.
“We do not release more than the total number of fatalities that have occurred at our members across the state,” said Chris Linsmayer, public affairs director for Colorado Ski Country, noting five deaths at the association’s member resorts this season.
Colorado Ski Country did not release skier visits from the 2019-20 season, which was cut short by the pandemic. The 2018-19 ski season set a record, with around 13.8 million visits logged at all the state’s resorts.
The National Ski Areas Association reported 42 fatalities in 2019-20, which is slightly above the 10-year national average of 39 deaths a year. (The association does not release details about the deaths.)
The national group’s long-term tracking of skier fatalities shows less than one death for every 1 million skier visits. Linsmayer with Colorado Ski Country said the association’s member resorts have a 10-year average of about 0.89 deaths for every 1 million skier visits. He declined to say how many skiers died at the association’s resorts in the 2019-20 season.
Vail Resorts, which operates five ski areas in Colorado – Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Crested Butte Mountain Resort, Keystone and Vail – is not a member of Colorado Ski Country and releases limited information about skier deaths only when asked. Vail Resorts does not report total fatalities at its 37 North American ski areas.
Resorts used to issue more information about deaths on their slopes. They used to share more information about everything going on at their ski areas. But in the past 15 years, Colorado’s resort industry has stopped sharing individual resort visitation and, more recently, successfully lobbied the U.S. Forest Service to stop reporting individual resort annual rent payments for operating on federal land. And earlier this month, they argued vehemently against a plan to make them report ski injury information. (Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment statistics show as many as 10 skiers and snowboarders are treated in emergency rooms every day of the ski season.)
Colorado Sen. Tammy Story, D-Conifer, sponsored the legislation that would require resorts to report injuries and deaths. That bill died in the state Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee after a three-hour hearing that included testimony from many people who lost loved ones in ski accidents. Story called the 4-1 vote to reject the Ski Areas Safety Plans and Accident Reporting Act “shocking.”
Story is not giving up on the push for more transparency in the resort industry. She understands the trepidation of a business built on fun having to detail the more dangerous side of those good times.
“But the reality is, with all that data pulled together for the state, maybe we could find other strategies that could be employed that could improve safety. That’s not a bad thing,” said Story, an avid skier. “Clearly, the industry cannot mitigate all risk, but I bet there are different things ski areas could be doing that could help reduce injuries, deaths and the severity of injuries, and make a better experience for everyone on the mountain, including their own employees.”
Here is a list of deaths gleaned from the survey of county coroners. Over the past decades, the typical death at a Colorado ski resort involves a male skier or snowboarder on an intermediate or green run striking a tree at a high rate of speed. A majority of this season’s fatalities fit that scenario.
Dec. 12, 2020: Vail. Unidentified male, 24, Avon. Snowboarding on the blue Cappuccino run. Wearing a helmet. Died at a later date from injuries.Dec. 29, 2020: Echo Mountain. Etthan Mañon, 15, Dominican Republic. First-time skier on the blue Send It run crashed “through construction fences, over rocks and finally collided with a tree,” according to a report from Clear Creek County Coroner Nichol Nelson.Jan. 1, 2021: Keystone. Zachariah Turnage, 28, Denver. Skied into a padded pole on the green Freda’s run. Wearing a helmet.Jan. 12, 2021: Vail. Unidentified male, 49, Denver. Skied into a tree on the green Lost Boy run. Wearing a helmet. Died at a later date from injuries.Jan. 14, 2021: Eldora. David Marquez, 51, Thornton. Skier who fell and slid into trees on the black Corona run. Jan. 28, 2021: Snowmass. David Cross, 32, Carbondale. Snowboarder who left the ski area into hazardous terrain beyond the resort boundary. Found two days later. Pitkin County coroner determined he died of “apparent hypothermia.” (Skiers who die outside a resort boundary usually are not included in annual tallies of skier deaths.)Feb. 6, 2021: Arapahoe Basin. Mike Wilson, 69, Kremmling. Skier suffered cardiac arrest. (Medical issues usually are not included in annual tallies of skier deaths.)Feb. 9, 2021: Breckenridge. Matthew Estrada, 55, Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Skied into a tree on the blue Nirvana run. Wearing a helmet.Feb. 20, 2021: Keystone. Jeffrey Freese, 47, Chesterfield, Missouri. Skied into a tree on the blue Porcupine run. Wearing a helmet.Feb. 23, 2021: Sunlight. Job Henning, 48, Bethesda, Maryland. Skier ran into a tree near the green Ivy and Ute runs. Wearing a helmet.Feb. 26, 2021: Breckenridge. Nisarg Patel, 25. California. Snowboarder crashed into a tree on the blue North Star run. Feb. 28, 2021: Eldora. Justin Demand, 26, Highlands Ranch. Snowboarder crashed into a tree on the blue Jolly Jug run. March 1, 2021: Eldora. Kyle Gale, 15, Boulder. Skier hit a tree on the blue Lower Ambush run. The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to covering Colorado issues. To learn more, go to coloradosun.com.