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Vail Resorts, coroner confirm skier death on Vail Mountain

Vail Resorts announced Wednesday that a 20-year-old man from Leawood, Kansas, has died after a serious incident on Vail Mountain. Eagle County Coroner Kara Bettis confirmed the death. The man has been identified as Connor Vande Garde.

“Vail Mountain, Ski Patrol and the entire Vail Resorts family extend our deepest sympathy and support to our guest’s family and friends,” said Beth Howard, vice president and chief operating officer at Vail Mountain, in a Vail Resorts release.

According to Vail Resorts, the man was transported to Vail Health Hospital after ski patrol responded to a skier incident on an intermediate trail in Blue Sky Basin. After further emergency care and evaluation, the male was pronounced deceased.

Read more about skier deaths in Colorado in our in-depth three-part series.

Sheriff’s Office investigating skier death at Keystone Resort

The Summit County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the death of a 51-year-old man who died at Keystone Resort on Monday afternoon.

At about 3:25 p.m. March 9, deputies with the Summit County Sheriff’s Office responded to a report of a male skier who was found unconscious and not breathing in the trees off the side of a ski run at Keystone.

The man was pronounced dead on scene by staff at the Keystone Medical Center. The identity of the skier is being withheld until his family has been notified by the Summit County coroner.

Read more about skier deaths in Colorado in our in-depth, three-part series.

Coroner: Vail skier who died of positional asphyxia didn’t fall through chair

Eagle County Coroner Kara Bettis continues to investigate the death of Jason Varnish, 46, on Feb. 13 at Vail while riding Chair 37 in Blue Sky Basin. In an Eagle County news release on Monday, Bettis clarified that Varnish did not fall through the chair, which contradicts earlier reporting.

Rather, Varnish died of positional asphyxia, as originally reported, when he became entangled by his clothing that appears to have been caught on a portion of the chairlift. He was unable to breathe due to his coat and tight clothing around his chest and abdominal region. The death has been ruled accidental.  

According to at least one witness, the chairlift seat was up when Varnish and a companion attempted to load Chair 37 in Vail’s Blue Sky Basin, according to the release. Positional asphyxia remains the cause of Varnish’s death, Bettis said.

Varnish, according to his obituary, is survived by his sons Cameron and Luko, his daughter Grace, and their mother Jo.

The ongoing investigation includes Vail Ski Patrol, Vail Resorts, Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board, Eagle County Paramedic Services, Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, Eagle County Coroner’s Office, Vail Public Safety Communications.

Skier dies at Winter Park Resort

A skier died Tuesday at Winter Park Resort after suffering from an apparent medical episode, according to the resort.

Around 1:20 p.m. Tuesday, a 58-year-old man from Westminster was skiing on White Rabbit when he appeared to have a medical episode. Ski Patrol responded to the incident and took the man to the Winter Park Denver Health Medical Center, where continued efforts to revive him were unsuccessful.

“Winter Park Resort extends its deepest condolences to the man’s family and friends in the wake of this incident,” a resort spokesperson said in a statement.

This is the second skier death at Winter Park Report this year after 25-year-old man died Jan. 18 after colliding with a tree on White Rabbit, the same run that the man from Westminster was skiing.

The man’s name has not been released.

Read more about skier deaths in Colorado in our in-depth three-part series.

Vail chairlift death similar to 2000 case, attorney says

A local attorney said he sees similarities between last week’s chairlift death of a New Jersey man, and a case he won against Vail Resorts following an incident 20 years ago.

Attorney Joe Bloch won a chairlift injury case against Vail Resorts stemming from a Feb. 1, 2000, incident on the Arrowbahn Express lift in which a chairlift seat was flipped up and a woman was injured when she fell through.

Jason Varnish, 46, of Short Hills, New Jersey, died Feb. 13 while riding Chair 37 in Vail’s Blue Sky Basin, according to Eagle County Coroner Kara Bettis.

Bettis said the chairlift seat had flipped up and Varnish fell through. His ski coat got caught on the chair and went around his head and neck in a position that compromised his airway.

“It’s a dangerous sport. We all know that. There are risks. But falling through a lift chair and asphyxiating should not be one of them,” Bloch said in a phone interview.

Two decades ago

It was Feb. 1, 2000, when Sallyann Aarons and her husband Alan, a 28-year veteran of the National Ski Patrol, tried to get on the Arrowbahn Express lift. Aarons, who was 68 at the time, was an experienced skier of more than 40 years.

Lift operators flip lift seats up when the ski day is done so they’re dry and free of ice and snow in the morning, Bloch said.

Local attorney Joe Bloch sees similarities between this 2002 case he won against Vail Resorts and last week’s chairlift death.
Jury Verdict Reports of Colorado

The seat on their lift chair had flipped up and Sallyann was pushed past the ramp and was thrown onto a rock pile below, Bloch said.

“When something malfunctions it happens fast and becomes extremely dangerous,” Bloch said.

Sallyann suffered a broken clavicle that never fused and a torn rotator cuff.

The case took two years to come to trial before Eagle County District Court Judge Richard Hart.

According to a case summary, Vail Resorts admitted that the lift operator was negligent for failing to stop the lift, and tried to flip down the chairlift seat instead of stopping the lift.

In the Aarons’ case, the lift operator tried to hold the chair back, Bloch said.

“They should have hit the emergency stop. It would have been stopped before it cleared the loading zone,” Bloch said.

After the two-day trial, the jury found Vail Resorts negligent in training and operation, the case summary said. The jury awarded the Aarons $175,000.

Bloch advocates for video cameras in chairlift loading and unloading zones.

“Why don’t they have them? Who cares about their exposure? Let’s care about making people safe,” Bloch said.

Varnish’s death ruled an accident

Varnish’s death has been ruled an accident.

Bloomberg News reported Tuesday that Varnish was a managing director for Credit Suisse Group AG. He most recently served as the bank’s global head of prime services risk. He’d spent more than 20 years at Credit Suisse after he joined in collateral and valuations in London in 1998.

“On behalf of all employees of Credit Suisse, we send our deepest condolences to Jason’s family and friends,” the bank said in a statement Tuesday.

Varnish, according to his obituary, is survived by his sons Cameron and Luko, his daughter Grace, and their mother Jo. His many passions included music, reading and cars, and he was an excellent and eager cook. Above all else, Jase loved his family, the obituary reads. A memorial is scheduled for Sunday at Prospect Presbyterian Church in Maplewood, New Jersey.

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

The Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board said that, for now, the investigation shows nothing mechanical failed.

“The Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board is working with Vail Mountain Resort on its investigation into the Feb. 14, 2020 fatality on the Skyline Express Lift. There is no indication at this juncture that lift components or operations contributed to the tragic accident. Any further questions regarding this matter should be addressed to Vail Resorts,” Lee Rasizer with the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board said Wednesday morning in an email.

The ongoing investigation includes Vail Ski Patrol, Vail Resorts, Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board, Eagle County Paramedic Services, Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, Eagle County Coroner’s Office, Vail Public Safety Communications.

Bettis had “no comment” regarding the investigation. Jessie Porter, a public information officer with the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, wrote in an email Wednesday to the Vail Daily: “We have received several different requests for information regarding this incident. At this time this is an active investigation and our reports are not at an appropriate level that they can be released at this time.”

Vail Resorts did not respond to requests for comment on Bloch’s 2000 case and what had been done since then to mitigate chairlift seats flipping up.

Vail Resorts did release a statement after Varnish’s death last week.

“Vail Mountain confirms a serious incident that took place yesterday involving a 46-year-old man from New Jersey. The incident occurred when the guest attempted to load the Skyline Express lift (Chair 37). Vail Mountain Ski Patrol responded to the incident and performed CPR and emergency care on scene before the guest was transported to Vail Health, where he was pronounced deceased,” the company said.

The National Ski Areas Association, a resort trade group, wrote in a 2017 industry paper that chairlift deaths because of mechanical malfunction are rare. Kelly Huber, a 40-year-old Texas woman, was killed after being thrown from a ski lift at Granby Ranch resort in 2016 because of a malfunction with the lift’s mechanical drive. Lift injuries caused by other nonmechanical issues are more common, including one from 2017 where a skier’s backpack was caught by a chairlift at Arapahoe Basin. The man was dragged back down the hill hanging by his neck and unconscious before he was cut down and rescued.

83-year-old man dies after falling into Snowmass Resort halfpipe

An 83-year-old man from Montrose died Wednesday after falling into the Snowmass Resort halfpipe Monday morning, Aspen Skiing Co. announced Friday.

George Cort was identified Friday evening by the Pitkin County deputy coroner Eric Hansen as the person who died.

Cort was found Monday morning by ski patrol who “initiated trauma protocol and transported the man to an ambulance,” according to a news release from Skico vice president of communications Jeff Hanle.

Cort was later transported to St. Anthony Hospital in Denver and died Wednesday evening, Hanle said according to Cort’s family.

Hansen said Cort died of multiple blunt force injuries. The manner of death was accidental.

According to the release, the accident, which happened about 9:15 a.m. Monday, was not witnessed by anyone and “it appeared the man had skied off the deck of the halfpipe.” He was wearing a helmet, Skico said in the release.

The halfpipe at Snowmass is near the Coney Glade lift and is designed as a superpipe, which has walls that are 22-feet high and it is used for professional competitions.

Weather conditions Monday morning included periods of fog and snow.

“Our deepest sympathies are with his family at this time,” Hanle said in the release.

Read more about skier deaths in Colorado in our in-depth three-part series.

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

Jason Varnish, 46, of Short Hills, New Jersey, died Thursday 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.

Skiers in the area witnessed CPR being performed on Varnish at the base of Chair 37. Blue Sky Basin was closed for about 24 hours following the incident, re-opening Friday around 11:30 a.m.

Numerous questions

Questions on the incident Friday were being referred to Bettis, who, after releasing the details of her initial investigation, referred questions to the Eagle County Sheriff’s Department.

The Sheriff’s Department then referred questions to Vail Resorts, which issued the following statement:

“Vail Mountain confirms a serious incident that took place yesterday involving a 46-year-old man from New Jersey. The incident occurred when the guest attempted to load the Skyline Express lift (Chair 37). Vail Mountain Ski Patrol responded to the incident and performed CPR and emergency care on scene before the guest was transported to Vail Health, where he was pronounced deceased. 

“We take all incidents seriously and are conducting a full investigation.

“The lift has been thoroughly inspected and is operating normally.

“’Vail Mountain and the entire Vail Resorts family express our sincere condolences and extend our support to the guest’s family and friends,’ said Beth Howard, chief operating officer.”

Similar circumstances to 2009 incident

Skiers mourning Varnish on Thursday were quick to remember a similar incident from 2009 on the same chairlift when a man found himself suspended upside down in Blue Sky Basin.

The man in the 2009 incident had also slipped through seat of the chairlift, which was not folded down properly, reported witness Marty Odom.

—Vail Daily Editor Nate Peterson contributed to this report

Read more about skier deaths in Colorado in our in-depth three-part series.

Cause of Steamboat skier’s death asphyxiation, coroner says

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Frank Maimone died Saturday, Feb. 8, as a result of asphyxiation due to a headfirst fall into a tree well while skiing at Steamboat Resort, according to Routt County Coroner Rob Ryg.

There was no trauma to his body, Ryg said.

The 53-year-old man from Philadelphia was discovered unresponsive at approximately 3:25 p.m. at the bottom of Shadow Glades, according to Loryn Duke, director of communications for Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp.

Steamboat Ski Patrol was on scene at approximately 3:30 p.m., she said, and advanced life support was administered all the way to UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs, where Maimone was pronounced dead.

It is hard to determine how long he was in the tree well, Ryg said, or the exact time of death.

Duke was not able to provide information about whether Mamione was skiing alone or who first discovered him.

Mamione’s death is the first ski-related death at the resort this season, Duke said.

Tree well safety

According to the National Association of Ski Areas, a deep snow, or tree well immersion accident, occurs when a skier or rider falls into an area of deep unconsolidated snow, becomes immobilized and suffocates.

The resort has received 42 inches of new snowfall since an intense snowstorm hit the area Thursday, Feb. 6.

Here are tips for skier and boarders to follow when skiing in areas of deep powder around trees. The information was compiled from Steamboat Resort and Colorado Ski Country.

  • Often, a skier or snowboarder falls into the tree well headfirst.
  • You should avoid skiing or riding close to the base of trees if possible, especially in deep snow or windblown snow conditions.
  • If you begin to fall into a tree well, try and grab onto the tree or a branch to prevent yourself from falling further into the tree well.
  • If you cannot prevent yourself from falling in, try to roll over and to stay upright instead of head down as you fall.
  • Try to keep your arm above your head to create an air pocket. Use a rocking or wiggling motion to try and create more space and move towards an upright position.
  • If skiing/riding in deep snow or near trees, stay with a partner and remain in visual contact.
  • Stay close enough to either pull or dig out your partner.
  • If your partner becomes immersed, first try to clear an airway, then call Steamboat Ski Patrol, 970-871-5911.

To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email kharden@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @kariharden.

Read more about skier deaths in Colorado.

Breckenridge confirms 2 fatal incidents at ski area in past month

BRECKENRIDGE — Representatives with Breckenridge Ski Resort have confirmed two incidents that resulted in fatalities at the ski area over the past three weeks.

On Jan. 20, a “serious incident” took place on the mountain involving a 45-year-old woman from Leesburg, Virginia, according to the resort. The woman has since been identified as Shirley V. Louangamath, originally from Vientiene, Laos.

Breckenridge Ski Patrol responded to the incident on an intermediate trail on Peak 8, and the woman was transported to St. Anthony Hospital in Lakewood but later died. The manner of death was accidental and caused by traumatic heart failure due to blunt force trauma, according to the Summit County Coroner’s Office.

The resort also confirmed another fatality on the mountain Feb. 7 involving a 56-year-old man from Austin, Texas, identified as Stephen William Piche. According to the resort, ski patrol recovered Piche from an expert trail on Peak 9, and he was transported to the Breckenridge Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. The manner of Piche’s death was natural, and it was caused by an acute myocardial infarction, or heart attack, according to the Coroner’s Office.

“Breckenridge Ski Resort, ski patrol and the entire Vail Resorts family extend our deepest sympathy and support to our guests’ family and friends,” John Buhler, vice president and chief operating officer at Breckenridge Ski Resort, said in a statement.

Read more about skier deaths in Colorado in our in-depth three-part series.

Skier dies at Steamboat Resort after falling in tree well

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — A 53-year-old skier from Philadelphia died after falling headfirst into a tree well on Shadows, a black diamond tree run at Steamboat Resort, on Saturday afternoon, according to Routt County Coroner Rob Ryg.

The man, identified as Frank Maimone, was found around 2:30 p.m., Ryg said. Steamboat Ski Patrol performed CPR and continued to perform CPR all the way to UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs, where the man died, Ryg said.

An autopsy report will be released Monday, Ryg said. There wasn’t any visible trauma, he said, but it isn’t known at this time whether the man suffered any trauma, and no cause of death has been identified at this time.

As of 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. had not returned a call requesting more information about the incident.

The resort has received 38 inches of new snowfall since an intense snow storm hit the area Thursday.

Tree well safety

According to the National Association of Ski Areas, a deep snow, or tree well immersion accident, occurs when a skier or rider falls into an area of deep unconsolidated snow, becomes immobilized and suffocates. These deaths are referred to as snow immersion suffocation.

Here are tips for skier and boarders to follow when skiing in areas of deep powder around trees. The information was compiled from Steamboat Resort and Colorado Ski Country.

  • Often, a skier or snowboarder falls into the tree well headfirst.
  • You should avoid skiing or riding close to the base of trees if possible, especially in deep snow.
  • If you begin to fall into a tree well, try and grab onto the tree or a branch to prevent yourself from falling further into the tree well.
  • If you cannot prevent yourself from falling in, try to roll over and to stay upright instead of head down as you fall.
  • Try to keep your arm above your head to create an air pocket. Use a rocking or wiggling motion to try and create more space and move towards an upright position.
  • Be aware of deep snow conditions, tree wells and other natural and man-made obstacles. Do not ski/ride too close to trees in deep or windblown snow conditions.
  • If skiing/riding in deep snow or near trees, stay with a partner and remain in visual contact.
  • Stay close enough to either pull or dig out your partner.
  • If your partner becomes immersed, first try to clear an airway, then call Steamboat Ski Patrol, 970-871-5911.

To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email kharden@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @kariharden.

Read more about skier deaths in Colorado in our in-depth three-part series.