Roaring Fork Valley adventure guide dies in Crystal River kayaking accident |

Roaring Fork Valley adventure guide dies in Crystal River kayaking accident

Searchers found body of Mountain Rescue Aspen volunteer two days after he went missing

Kaya Williams
The Aspen Times
Chason Russell, from left, Keith Bosscher and Jordan White stand atop a peak in western Mongolia during a ski mountaineering trip. Russell died Thursday while kayaking in the Crystal River near Carbondale.
Photo from Jordan White

ASPEN — Chason P. Russell, a 41-year-old professional adventure guide and Mountain Rescue Aspen volunteer, died Thursday, June 17, while kayaking the Crystal River, according to the Pitkin County Coroner’s Office.

The Roaring Fork Valley local drowned after his kayak overturned and he was released from the vessel while navigating the fast-paced, difficult “Meatgrinder” section of the river just north of Redstone, according to a news release. Crews spent all day Friday, June 18, and much of Saturday, June 19, on the search for Russell before they recovered his body around 3:30 p.m. Saturday in the area he was last seen.

He was a lifelong outdoorsman who began an accomplished guiding and instructing career when he was still a teen in his hometown of Telluride. He worked for nearly 15 years as an outdoor instructor for the Telluride Academy, an experiential outdoor education camp before moving to Aspen in 2011. He then worked as “adventure coordinator” and property manager for a family in the area, he told Adventure Journal in 2016.

His experience in adventure sports spans decades, with an accomplished resume of ski mountaineering expeditions, big-mountain competition, whitewater kayaking ventures and other outdoor feats.

He also was an involved member of Mountain Rescue Aspen, part of a team of volunteers who apply an extensive base of outdoor knowledge to local search and rescue efforts.

“He was certainly a very skilled member on our team,” said Jordan White, the president of the organization and longtime friend and adventure partner of Russell’s. “He was a guy who was happy jumping into any position that needed to be filled, big or small.”

White remembered Russell as a level-headed member of the Mountain Rescue Aspen team who often served as a mentor and shared his knowledge and respect for the mountains with others. The loss will hit the community hard given Russell’s wide reach in the outdoors community in Aspen and Telluride, White said.

“He’s leaving behind a large group of people that in some way or another have been influenced by him and how he thought about the mountains. … We lost a pretty good one,” White said.

His influence on adventure education for youths continued here in the Roaring Fork Valley, where for several years he coached skiers at Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club and served as the head coach of the club’s big mountain team when it launched nearly a decade ago, Freestyle Program Director Eric Knight said.

It was there that he introduced the “energy laser,” a circle of pole-tapping, bellowing and positivity that remains a tradition with the club, according to current big mountain head coach Johnny Rossman.

“The spirit of Chason Russell is a radiant beam that strengthens all of those around. He protected and empowered individuals of all ages. On any adventure with Chason, you were guaranteed to learn something and always have a good time,” Rossman wrote in an email.

But even extensive experience in the mountains does not preclude danger, noted White, the Mountain Rescue Aspen president.

“All those decisions we make out there are calculated, right? But you’re never that far from that calculated decision being just slightly off or anything going just slightly wrong,” he said. “You’re living on the edge, and most of us who try to spend any time at an elite level in a sport end up with that possibility.”

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