Mountain Town News: Fatal snakebite in foothills was a statistical anomaly |

Mountain Town News: Fatal snakebite in foothills was a statistical anomaly

GOLDEN, Colo. — Rattlesnakes can be found at elevations of up to 9,500 feet in Colorado. That’s higher than nearly all ski towns. But you don’t find rattlesnakes among the ski lifts. As a practical matter, most ski towns are too cold and wet for rattlesnakes.

Along the Front Range, where the Great Plains rise abruptly into the Rocky Mountains, they’re common enough, if rarely seen. The Mount Galbraith trailhead near Golden, west of Denver, warns hikers of bears and mountain lions, but not rattlesnakes.

But a rattlesnake, the most venomous of reptiles in the United States, is what killed 31-year-old Daniel Hohs on Oct. 7. He was a statistical anomaly. Snakebites are somewhat common, but only five or six fatalities occur per year in the United States, mostly in warm-weather states. Florida is the leader.

Hohs was bitten on the ankle by a 4-foot-long snake as he hiked. A physician in the area was summoned to the scene, but it took 22 minutes for paramedics to arrive and more time yet to get him to a nearby hospital, where he died.

From Chicago originally, he had a compelling story. The Chicago Tribune described his first major depressive episode just before he enrolled in the engineering school at the University of Michigan in 2004.

“I spent over three months torturing my brain, struggling to succeed in school, masking my emotions, and dealing with what I thought was stress,” he later wrote in an essay called “How Endurance Sports Saved My Life.” It was published on the website.

Another episode in 2005, two weeks before his sophomore year, caused him to be awake for three days straight. He ended up in a hospital, where he was diagnosed with a bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression.

“I spent the next nine years learning that my alternative brain chemistry is not a disorder and it is not an illness; it is a unique part of me that gives me strength and individuality in so many ways.”

Endurance sports helped him gain this knowledge, he continued. He graduated with a degree in industrial engineering in 2009 at Michigan. His father told the Tribune that he was on a championship ski team there. He then began competing in Ironman triathlons before moving to Steamboat Springs.

Steamboat Today reported Hohs has been training with Heather Gollnick’s IronEdge triathlon team. “Dan was so vibrant,” she said. “He had this huge smile and this energy that just made you happy. It was contagious to everyone.” She called him “just one of those really decent human beings.”

Some 8,000 to 10,000 snakebites occur each year, of which about a third are venomous, according to a 2015 report by Linda Sanders, a physician at Temple University. Pit vipers, which include rattlesnakes, make up 75 to 80 percent of venomous bites, says the report, “Management of Venomous Snake Bites in North America,” which was published in emDocs.

The fatality rate for rattlesnake bites is somewhere around 15 percent for nontreated ones and roughly 2 percent or slightly less for treated ones.

What exactly caused Hohs to die when treatment was administered relatively quickly is unknown. An autopsy will take another month or so.

Colorado does not have precise mapping of where rattlesnakes are found, but they’re rarely, if ever, found at higher, cooler elevations with abundant precipitation. There have been reports at Steamboat Springs, but not upstream of Glenwood Canyon, meaning Winter Park, Breckenridge and Vail are safe. But Durango has rattlesnakes, with reports in the state database of sightings near Hesperus, west of Durango (and site of a small ski area).

Will the warming climate change where rattlesnakes are found? Aspen and Vail, with elevations of 8,000, aren’t much higher than the site near Denver where the fatal bite occurred.

Tina Jackson, species conservation coordinator for the Colorado Parks and Wildlife, says modeling suggests new territory for higher elevations as temperatures continue to warm. But it all depends upon changing precipitation, and at this point, models remain unclear whether Colorado will get more precipitation — or less.

Wilderness lost-and-founds are full of surprising twists

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. — In reporting a lost-and-found story, the Crested Butte News editor Mark Reaman last week had the perfect situation for this seeming Zen koan:

“If two lost strangers find each other, are they lost? Or are they found?” he wrote.

The setting was the area northwest of Kebler Pass, in an area called Dark Canyon. Two women, one 28 and one 23, both from the Front Range of Colorado, had gone hiking in that area separately. Both got lost separately. Then they bumped into each other on a trail.

The two women lucked into an outfitter’s camp, which was stocked with food and firewood, a tent and cots. The next morning they were trying to find their way out of the wilderness when searchers found them. Searchers also discovered the two women had parked next to each other at a trailhead parking lot.

Meanwhile, about 100 miles to the east, a hiker from Summit County summited 14,065-foot Missouri Mountain, which is located in the Sawatch Range west of the highway that links Leadville and Buena Vista. He then headed down but it was not the way he had gone up. Instead of Chalk Creek, he headed into a giant basin between Missouri and Mount Harvard.

Had he just continued to walk downhill, he would have ended up on that highway. Instead, he wandered in the wilderness for three days before searchers noticed the fire he had built.

The flames he generated registered a heat signature for a multi-emission aircraft from the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control. The aircraft is normally used in wildland firefighting efforts.

Let it also be noted, as the Summit Daily News did, that the errant hiker did a number of things right to avoid suffering frostbite even as temperatures plunged well below freezing. He remained hydrated and was in good enough shape to refuse hospitalization, despite some sunburn and badly chapped lips.

Columbus gets the heave-ho as Aspen nods at the natives

ASPEN, Colo. — In many places, Oct. 9 was Columbus Day. But in Aspen, it was Indigenous Peoples Day.

The Aspen City Council adopted the resolution with that declaration after hearing from Roland McCook, a resident of nearby Montrose, Colorado, and a Ute by heritage. Utes at one time inhabited the Aspen area, at least seasonally.

“It concerns my people, and Native Americans across the country, that we celebrate a holiday to honor a person who has caused us great pain,” McCook told the council members in a work session covered by the Aspen Daily News.

“The holiday reminds us every year how we were treated in the interest of manifest destiny.”

A local real estate broker, Lorrie Winnerman, told council members that efforts to stop recognizing Columbus Day amounted to “bullying.” Native populations also committed some “pretty repulsive” acts against one another.

“If you want to give them a day, give them a day, but don’t give them Columbus,’” he said. “Columbus didn’t take these guys down.”

Councilwoman Ann Mullins noted that Columbus Day doesn’t carry much weight anymore, with many states and towns opting out.

In her research, she said, “what struck me especially is that it is always a challenge to record history accurately.”

Cannabis legalization just hasn’t been that big of a deal

WHISTLER, B.C. — As Canada moves closer to legalization of marijuana, places like Whistler logically wonder about the experiences of their peer resorts in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington states.

Not a big impact, according to Jeff Hanle, spokesman for the Aspen Skiing Co. but visitors had to be educated about what was legal—and what was not.

“When it first started, tourists were coming to town, they were all excited, and they thought they could go sit on a deck at the top of the mountain and smoke a joint,” he told Pique Newsmagazine. “They didn’t understand that it had to be in a private residence. You couldn’t be out smoking in public.”

In Colorado, he said, cannabis retailers have largely taken the job of educating users about what Colorado allowed as of January 2014. Even there, local jurisdictions have discretion whether to allow sales. Many have not.

While states have legalized marijuana, the federal government has not. Most ski areas are federal lands. U.S. Forest Service ski rangers are responsible for enforcing federal law.

“If somebody is here and they happen to notice it, they address it, but it‘s not like (the Forest Service) is out there watching everyone like a hawk and trying to enforce that,” said Tiana Anderson, marketing director for Crystal Mountain in Washington. “I think they have bigger issues.”

It’s official now: Deer Valley part of the Unvail

PARK CITY, Utah — It’s official now. Deer Valley is part of the new still unnamed ski conglomerate created in a partnership of KSL Capital Partners and the Crown family, owners of the Aspen Skiing Co.

The company now has 13 resorts across the United States that collectively host about 7 million skier visits. Vail Resorts last year did about 12 million skier visits.

Meanwhile, David Perry, the chief operating officer for the company that still has no name, tells the Denver Post that there will be a name soon.

“We are going to have a name soon so we can stop calling it NewCo,” he said. He promised that the “name will not dazzle. It will be largely business-to-business—something.” In other words, the “resorts and their communities will be in the spotlight, not secondary to the company name.”

No chief executive officer for the UnNamed Co. has been named.

Bear learned how to get into cars, but not out

WHISTLER, B.C. — Lock your doors so that thieves don’t get in! That was the message out of Whistler recently after a black bear learned how to get into cars—but not necessarily how to get out.

The bear opened one unlocked door and looked for food, something that had yielded a meal in the past. But in this case, the bear couldn’t get out and ransacked the car.

At length, conservation officers decided the bear had to be tranquilized and then killed.

“It’s not the kind of behavior that was going to change,” said Kent Popjes of the decision to kill the bear.

Pique Newsmagazine reports that 496 black bears have been destroyed in British Columbia this year.

Banff gateway town sees 7 percent population rise

CANMORE, Alberta — Canmore, at the gateway to Banff National Park, now has nearly 14,000 residents, a 7 percent increase since the 2011 census.

Bruce Gleig, program associate at the Biosphere Institute of the Bow Valley, described the population growth as “modest” and a healthier rate than the population loss of a decade earlier or the boom population of the 1990s. Canmore in 1986, after the coal mines had closed in 1979, had a population of 4,182.

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