Agencies investigate backcountry collision
January 16, 2007
Aspen, CO ColoradoASPEN The Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office and U.S. Forest Service will send investigators to the scene of a backcountry accident on Richmond Ridge today to try to determine who, if anyone, is to blame.Pro snowboarder Doran Laybourn and a snowmobiler, whom the sheriff’s office hasn’t identified, collided at about 2 p.m. Sunday along Richmond Ridge on the back side of Aspen Mountain. The crash occurred south of the intersection of Richmond Ridge and Little Annie roads, and north of Hurricane Point, according to multiple sources.What still needs to be determined is whether the accident occurred on private or national forest land, according to Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis. If the accident involved snowmobile use in a closed area of the forest, the Forest Service is more likely to get involved in the investigation, according to Tim Lamb, a ranger with the Aspen-Sopris district.The Aspen Skiing Co. leases private property in the area and grooms a trail up toward Hurricane Point. The closure of the route to snowmobiles and other users is routinely ignored, according to longtime users of the backcountry area.The entire Richmond Ridge area is a jumble of private and public land crisscrossed by a variety of winter routes. Powder days attract Skico tours using snowcats, skiers and riders using snowmobiles to shuttle themselves up the slopes, cross-country skiers and snowmobilers.Some backcountry enthusiasts said they always felt it was just a matter of time before there was some type of accident in the largely self-regulated setting. Braudis said this is the first accident of this type he can remember his department investigating: “That’s sort of terra incognita,” he said.Laybourn, 26, of Missouri Heights, suffered a shattered leg and extensive facial and head injuries, according to his father, Royal. He remains in Aspen Valley Hospital in stable condition and is undergoing various surgeries, his dad said.The impact knocked the snowmobiler off his sled, and he suffered a concussion, according to two sources familiar with the incident.After the accident, Laybourn’s riding partner got him to their nearby snowmobile and transported him roughly three miles to the upper Silver Queen Gondola terminal.Royal Laybourn said his son told him it was all he could do to remain on the snowmobile and maintain consciousness during the ride. The route often has a bumpy, washboard-type surface.Royal Laybourn said his son is facing extensive surgery and physical therapy but is determined to recover from his injuries and try to get back on a snowboard. Doran has been a pro rider since age 14 and is on the Aspen Skiing Co.’s Team Aspen/Snowmass. He specializes in slopestyle and big air.”We really appreciate the concern of the community,” Royal Laybourn said.Braudis said his department interviewed the man who was riding with Laybourn, as well as a passenger on the other snowmobile to try to determine how the accident happened. The passenger came to the sheriff’s office roughly an hour after the incident to report it.Braudis vowed that his investigators will do a thorough job. He said it is too soon to say if charges are warranted: “It’s going to come down to whether there is negligence or not,” he said.A potentially important piece of evidence could be video from Laybourn’s riding partner. The other rider was shooting video of Laybourn throughout the day, but deputies didn’t know if the tape was rolling at the time of the accident.”The video could be the perfect witness,” Braudis said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.