Top 5 stories on, week of Feb. 16 |

Top 5 stories on, week of Feb. 16

Jody Churich, general manager of Keystone Resort, rides the gondola Wednesday, Feb. 19, to take a morning run before resuming work in the office. Churich is the second female general manager at Keystone Resort.
Liz Copan /

Editor’s note: Stories in this list received the most page views on for the past week.

1. Vail skier death was from accidental hanging, according to initial investigation

Jason Varnish, 46, of Short Hills, New Jersey, died Feb. 13 of positional asphyxia while riding Chair 37 in Vail’s Blue Sky Basin, according to the Eagle County coroner. Coroner Kara Bettis said the death has been ruled an accident.

Bettis, in a text, wrote: “We are still investigating how this whole situation happened. According to our initial investigation, the deceased slipped through the seat of the chair lift and his ski coat got caught up in the chair. The coat ended up going up around his head and neck area putting his neck in a position that compromised his airway.”

Bettis said that the chairlift’s folding seat was in the upright position, according to witnesses, instead of being folded down so riders could sit on it, leaving an open area which one could fall through if they did not notice the seat was not in place.

— John LaConte, Vail Daily

2. Breckenridge records snowiest February ever as snowstorms continue to bury Summit County

With more than 7 feet of snow, this is the deepest February on record at Breckenridge Ski Resort.

While the 2018-19 season brought plenty of snow to Summit County, more than 32 feet at Breckenridge according to, this season is catching up with more than 18 feet recorded at Breckenridge. 

The Feb. 17 total of 87 inches at Breckenridge beats last year’s February total of 29 inches by a landslide, according to data by OpenSnow. It topped the recent record of 85 inches from the 2013-14 season, 82 inches from the 1992-93 season, and is far above the average February snowfall of 50 inches, according to Nicole Stull, spokeswoman for Breckenridge and Keystone Resort.

Taylor Sienkiewicz

3. Breckenridge State of the Town gives residents updates on developments, opportunity to ask questions

On Thursday, Feb. 13, the town of Breckenridge hosted their annual State of the Town meeting, which is meant to inform residents of past, present and future town issues, projects and events. The meeting began with each council member discussing a topic that council has been working on that is particularly “near and dear to their hearts.” Then, the floor opened for a Q&A session. 

Council member Gary Gallagher discussed the the $58 million water plant project, expected to be finished by midsummer. Kelly Owens discussed child care, explaining the tuition assistance fund, which she said reaches 78 families and provided $600,000 in 2019 to 105 kids. Dick Carleton covered the topic of workforce housing. 

Council member Erin Gigliello spoke to events and tourism. Wendy Wolfe discussed sustainability by sharing accomplishments and goals. Jeffrey Bergeron gave updates on Open Space & Trails.

Taylor Sienkiewicz

4. Two dead in avalanche near Vail on Muddy Pass

Two timbersledders were killed in an avalanche east of Red and White Mountain in Eagle County on Feb. 15. The victims were identified as Dillon Block, 28, and Cesar Almanza-Hernandez, 30. Both men were from Gypsum.

According to the CAIC’s preliminary report, three motorized snowbike riders were caught in the avalanche. One rider was only partially buried and was able to extricate himself and go for help. The avalanche carried the other two riders into a gully in the drainage bottom. Avalanche debris piled up deeply and they were fully buried and killed. Search and Rescue volunteers recovered the bodies on February 16. 

— John LaConte, Vail Daily

5. Jody Churich is Keystone Resort’s 2nd female general manager, reflecting a growing industry trend

Keystone Resort General Manager Jody Churich is the second female general manager at the resort, coming to Colorado from Park City, Utah. She and her husband moved to Summit County with their dog as empty nesters, and she felt Keystone was a good fit for her. 

“Really the brand fit for me was ideal because I come from a lot of youth action sports and really kids programming,” Churich said. “And that’s where my passion is, is in youth sports.”

In 2006, Churich and Pat Campbell became the first female general managers in the industry. At the time, Churich was at Boreal Mountain Resort and Soda Springs Mountain Springs in California, and Campbell was at Keystone.

Churich recalled someone telling her that she had broken a glass ceiling.

“It never even occurred to me,” Churich said. “It was just, I got tapped and went for it.”

Taylor Sienkiewicz

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