Some details of Snowmass patroller’s death still unknown
Ryan Summerlin January 1, 2013
SNOWMASS – An investigation by Aspen Skiing Co. into the avalanche death of a Snowmass ski patroller Sunday has yet to confirm why the longtime employee was skiing alone in a permanently closed area of the ski mountain.
Forty-nine-year-old Patricia “Patsy” Hileman, of Snowmass Village, was killed Sunday while skiing alone in Ship’s Prow Glades, a permanently closed area next to Upper Ladder, a run on the Hanging Valley Wall on Snowmass ski area, according to a statement from Skico. She triggered a small avalanche that swept her over a cliff.
Skico said Monday that it was continuing to investigate the circumstances of her death.
“At this point we have no knowledge of Patsy’s intentions, and we will not speculate on this matter,” spokesman Jeff Hanle said in the statement. “We can confirm that we have located only one set of tracks going into the area.”
A postmortem examination determined that the cause of death was blunt force trauma to the chest and back, according to the Pitkin County Coroner’s Office. Hileman’s next of kin was notified Sunday, according to the office.
Staff from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center was expected to visit the site on Monday.
The White River National Forest typically conducts its own investigations when deaths occur on forest land, particularly when members of the public are involved, spokeswoman Aurora Palmer said.
“Since this is different, we’re kind of waiting until (Skico completes its inquiry) to see what their internal investigation suggests,” Palmer said.
Hanle said Hileman was employed with Skico for 26 years. He wasn’t aware of any immediate family members in the area.
Numerous comments on the Snowmass Ski Patrol’s Facebook page expressed condolences for her death. Many called her friendly and remarked on her smile. Others said they would ski a run for her.
Ski Patrol launched a search for Hileman at 12:45 p.m. Sunday after she was overdue at her station. Patrollers located her at 1:23 p.m. and immediately initiated medical treatment. Hileman was pronounced dead at the scene at 1:37 p.m., and her body was transported to the Snowmass Clinic.
Details of the slide posted Sunday on the avalanche center’s website said it occurred on an unsupported slope facing northeast at 11,800 feet. The center forecast avalanche danger in the Aspen area Sunday as considerable on slopes near and above treeline facing northwest, north, northeast or east and moderate in other areas.
Hileman’s death was Colorado’s first avalanche-related fatality of the 2012-13 season.