Frisco/Vail local Paul Cuthbertson remembered for his love of the mountains
Preliminary autopsy results indicate 21-year-old died from exposure and hypothermia during backcountry ski trip
Paul Cuthbertson set out by himself around 3 p.m. Friday from the trailhead that leads up to the Polar Star Inn, according to his father, Mike, but never made it to the popular backcountry hut as a late-spring snowstorm moved in.
The Vail native was set to meet a group of friends and RA Nelson coworkers for a celebration of his 21st birthday that night.
In an email to the Vail Daily, Mike Cuthbertson wrote that members of Vail Mountain Rescue Group found his son Saturday in a tree well below the hut after spending the night out in the cold. Ski tracks indicated that Paul Cuthbertson had fallen into several other tree wells prior to that. Preliminary autopsy results indicate that the cause of death was exposure and hypothermia.
It’s about a 6-mile trek, mostly uphill, to the hut, which is just below timberline at 11,040 feet on the west flank of New York Mountain. When Paul Cuthbertson failed to show up, the others in the group set out looking for him early Saturday morning and notified Vail Mountain Rescue.
Other friends and family members joined the group from the hut in the search, combing the mountainside. Because of the late-spring conditions, rescue crews took trucks up as far as they could, then switched to snowmobiles.
There is no cell service between the parking lot and the hut. Paul Cuthbertson had left work at RA Nelson later than the rest of the group that skied to the hut earlier in the day, planning to catch up to the crew later on. RA Nelson is a full-service general contracting firm in the Vail Valley where Cuthbertson’s father also works.
Mike Cuthbertson said his son followed ski tracks at a fork in the road, taking him off the well-traveled path and onto a route that becomes steep and difficult.
A talented skier, climber
Paul Cuthbertson embodied the spirit of the ski town where he was born. He was raised in Vail and Frisco and attended Vail Mountain School from kindergarten through fifth grade.
A talented Alpine racer who skied for Ski and Snowboard Club Vail from ages 5 to 19, Cuthbertson switched over to the Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy in sixth grade and attended the school through his high school years, graduating in 2016.
Before enrolling at Montana State University in Bozeman this past fall, Cuthbertson chased his competitive Alpine dreams for two years after high school, under the SSCV banner. In Bozeman, he was studying mechanical engineering and design while also finding time to explore the mountains he so loved.
“Paul was an avid and highly accomplished alpine, telemark, and backcountry skier,” his father wrote. “While living in Bozeman, he took up competitive big mountain telemark skiing, and spent most of his free time backcountry skiing or ripping the steeps of Bridger Bowl. When not studying or skiing he would be found bouldering and rock climbing, or mountain biking.”
Paul Cuthbertson interned with SYNC Performance during high school and worked for the company as a project manager while recovering from skiing injuries after high school. He also taught skiing at Vail during his winter and spring breaks from Montana State.
He worked with RA Nelson as an intern for the summer of 2018 and had returned for the summer of 2019.
A memorial service is scheduled for at 2 p.m. Thursday, June 13, at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater in Vail. Following the ceremony, there will be a reception at the Ski & Snowboard Club Vail Clubhouse.
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