Ski-town news roundup: Skier dies in avalanche near Jackson Hole |

Ski-town news roundup: Skier dies in avalanche near Jackson Hole

Compiled by Lauren Glendenning

JACKSON, Wyo. — A Jackson man died Thursday when an avalanche swept him down a steep slope he was snowboarding about a half-mile outside Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.

The avalanche, more than 50 yards wide, buried Michael Kazanjy, 29, at about 12:50 p.m. under 4 feet to 6 feet of snow, according to the Teton County undersheriff. Though Kazanjy was quickly located with a transceiver and a physician soon arrived. He was pronounced dead at 1:31 p.m.

Two other members of Kazanjy’s party who were caught in the slide escaped uninjured, undersheriff Bob Gilliam said.

After taking the tram to the top of Rendezvous Mountain, Kazanjy and his friends “crossed the fence and opened the gate” at the resort’s south boundary “and disregarded several warning signs to get into this area,” Gilliam said.

Gates on the resort boundaries allow skiers and snowboarders to reach backcountry terrain not patrolled or controlled by the resort. Signs warn backcountry travelers that dangerous conditions await them on the slopes beyond.

Known as Pucker Face, the east-facing slope at 10,300 feet slid with a crown depth of 48 inches, according to the Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center. The center’s preliminary report said the slope’s angle was greater than 45 degrees and that Kazanjy was the first person on the slope at the time of the slide.

Gilliam didn’t know if Kazanjy died of trauma or of suffocation while under the snow.

A Jackson Hole ski guide was the first to report the slide to ski patrol, said resort spokeswoman Anna Cole. Other skiers also saw it, Gilliam added.

“The incident was witnessed by numerous backcountry travelers including JHMR Backcountry Guides, who were in the vicinity,” said a news release issued by the resort.

Cole didn’t know who located Kazanjy after the avalanche, but said ski patrollers and other skiers had joined the search for him.

A doctor employed by the resort arrived at the scene “relatively quickly” after the slide, Gilliam said. A helicopter brought a second physician to the scene soon after, but they were unable to revive Kazanjy.

A nearby slope called No Shadows has the same elevation and aspect as Pucker Face but with an angle of less than 40 degrees. It avalanched naturally on Christmas Eve, according to the avalanche center.

Ski patrol triggered 46 avalanches inside the resort boundaries the morning of Christmas Eve while preparing the slopes for visitors.

Two feet of snow fell on the resort between Dec. 20 and Dec. 23, according to the avalanche center.

Irwin and CB Mountain Guides

CRESTED BUTTE — The two biggest guide companies in Crested Butte have announced a merger.

Irwin Guides has purchased the Crested Butte Mountain Guides, the guiding company established in 1990 by Jean Pavillard as Adventures to the Edge. That company was sold to Alan Bernholtz in 2001 and he changed the name to Crested Butte Mountain Guides. Bernholtz sold the company to Jayson Simons-Jones in 2008.

In a letter to clients and friends, Simons-Jones said the time was right to make the deal.

“It became apparent to me that my vision for the future of CBMG and the things I wanted to continue to accomplish and offer, as experiences to both staff and guests alike, (were) ultimately better served by a company with the greater personnel and financial assets to help that vision come to fruition,” he wrote. “I am also happily looking forward to going back to being a full-time guide, continuing to work as the lead guide of CBMG and also to enjoy the lightness of having unloaded the burdens of being a small-business owner…”

“Irwin Guides is excited to carry the torch of CBMG while being able to expand our educational and guided offerings, and to provide more year-round employment for the highly skilled guides that make up the CBMG staff,” said Irwin Guides global guide manager Steve Banks.

According to a news release from Irwin, CBMG will maintain its identity as the one-stop shop for year-round guided mountain experiences and outdoor education in Crested Butte and the surrounding mountains. The strategic partnership means the company will expand its services locally and abroad, as well as its community involvement

Tiff Simpson, who has been with CBMG since June 1, 2011, will remain as the general manager for CBMG, and Simons-Jones will now be the lead guide in the next chapter of the guide business. All current CBMG guides will continue on in the newly formed company.

Telluride dispensaries ready for recreational pot

TELLURIDE — No one knows how many people will queue up to buy retail marijuana when it becomes available across Colorado on Wednesday, but one thing is certain: Telluride’s shops will be open for business.

All three of the town’s marijuana dispensaries plan to open their doors to those 21 and older Wednesday (Jan. 1) for retail sales, and are bracing for big crowds.

It will be the first time in U.S. history that fully taxed and regulated marijuana will be available to the general public. And as any state dispensary owner will testify, Colorado’s marijuana industry is heavily regulated. As of Thursday, dispensary owners were working to finish the many regulatory hoops that they had to jump through to sell retail pot.

“Yes, it’s been one of those paper-pushing nightmares,” said Adam Raleigh, owner of Telluride Bud Company. “But it’s going to be a bum rush, it’s going to be a novelty. I’ve got emails this last week from people driving in from California, Utah, Arizona, Wyoming and you know, New Mexico — coming in just to be here for Jan. 1, to be a part of history.”

Over the past several months, local dispensary owners have been working through the hurdles necessary to sell retail marijuana and fielding hundreds of phone calls from potential customers. Greg Viditz-Ward, owner of the Green Room, said he has been getting all types of inquiries about what will be on sale on Wednesday and how much there will be.

“We’re just in total chaos mode right now,” Viditz-Ward said. “I don’t know if the first is going to be our biggest day, but I think we’re going to have a lot of people here. Being that we’ve never done this before, it’s hard to say. We probably get a dozen people calling in daily from all over the country saying they are booking their trip. And I hear the hotel bookings are up, so that’s good.”

Beginning on Jan. 1, the state will allow retail shops to be open from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. (Only existing medical marijuana dispensary owners in the state were allowed to transition to pot shops by the Jan. 1 date, though they had to do so under state and local rules. New retail establishments are expected to open later in 2014.)

Ice climbing scene grows near Lake Tahoe

TAHOE/TRUCKEE — There might be limited ice climbing around Lake Tahoe, but the sport has drawn a dedicated group of athletes throughout the basin. And more climbers are swelling those ranks as more people head into the backcountry.

Ask a veteran ice climber about ice climbing around Tahoe, and the words “small,” “scattered” and even “awful” might come up. But while the Lake Tahoe Basin may not be an ice-climbing mecca, the region’s winter climbing scene is growing as more snow sports enthusiasts head to the backcountry.

People just don’t move to Tahoe for the ice, South Shore climber Bryce Stath said. Stath started ice climbing in Alaska almost a decade ago before moving to South Lake Tahoe last year.

“The Sierra doesn’t produce ice like the other mountain ranges, but something is better than nothing. We go ice climbing when the skiing is marginal,” Stath said.

Epic powder days can make for terrible ice climbing. Feet of snow will cover routes and block access to the climbs, and the length and quality of the ice season varies drastically each winter as temperatures fluctuate. Novices be warned — ice climbing in Tahoe often involves thin ice and lots of mixed terrain, according to Stath.

Yet Stath said the number of strong rock climbers who want to test their skills on the ice is growing. Each year more people ask him to take them up in the winter, but with more climbers comes more risk.

“Being above people on ice is really dangerous. You have to be really mindful of where people are. And the equipment is very spiky and pointy. You just don’t want to fall. It’s such a different medium than rock. Ice can be really brittle,” Stath said.

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