Witnesses say snowmobile was traveling fast before fatal collision
VAIL ” Friends of a teenage ski racer killed in a collision with a snowmobile at Vail Mountain say the machine was traveling fast enough to become airborne.
Ski resort officials told investigators that resort employee Mark Chard, 27, was driving 10 mph with a siren on Sunday when he approached a blind spot and collided with 13-year-old Ashley Stamp of Steamboat Springs.
Some witnesses disputed those findings Tuesday, saying Vail’s race crews were driving snowmobiles much faster.
“We had been noticing over the weekend that they were going so fast up and down the hills that it was scary,” said Cassady Roberts, one of Stamp’s teammates on the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. “I even said as we were going up the lift on Saturday: ‘Somebody’s going to be hit by one of those things.”‘
In a written statement, Vail Resorts spokeswoman Jen Brown said safety is of “paramount importance.”
“Out of respect for the family and while this tragic accident is under investigation, Vail Resorts is not going to provide any further comment on or speculation about the accident itself or on our snowmobile usage at this time,” the statement said.
The Colorado State Patrol is investigating the crash, which happened as Stamp practiced for the slalom ski race. There also were conflicting reports about whether Stamp was wearing headphones.
The run was closed to the public, but several other skiers and coaches were on the course. Vail Resorts uses the snowmobiles to transport skiers to the top of the run, which is inaccessible by the lifts.
“I can attest to the fact that both snowmobiles were commonly traveling at excessive speeds inside the race arena that morning,” said Jeff Gibbs, the father of another of Stamp’s teammates.
“In fact, at the time, it dawned on me that, during my 11 years around junior ski races, I have never seen snowmobile drivers conducting themselves so irresponsibly within a race arena,” Gibbs said.
In a statement to the State Patrol, Gibbs said his son and other witnesses said the snowmobile was traveling fast enough to “catch air” when it suddenly came upon the blind knoll.
Investigators were wary of the “group witness theory,” in which witnesses discuss what they saw then incorporate details missing from their own versions, State Patrol spokesman Don Moseman said.
However, he said the information would not be discounted.
The Eagle County Coroner ruled the death an accident, saying Stamp died of blunt force injuries to the chest. The investigation could take several more weeks, and results will be turned over to the Eagle County district attorney’s office.
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