Backcountry slide kills two skiers

Joel StoningtonAspen, CO Colorado
Jordan Curet/The Aspen Times

ASPEN A huge avalanche near Independence Pass killed two male skiers Tuesday, while a third walked away after trying to save his partners’ lives. The trio was backcountry skiing on Sunshine Peak – officially named Mount Shimer – when an avalanche rescue personnel described as “massive” and “enormous” occurred. Officials withheld the names of the two victims – one from New York City and one from Buenos Aires, Argentina – pending notification of relatives.The Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office identified the survivor as Jason Luck, 33, of Arvada.

The three had driven to the Independence Pass winter closure gate on Highway 82 and parked two vehicles, then took two snowmobiles 2 miles to the Weller Lake trailhead and skinned toward Sunshine Peak, Lumsden said.Mountain Rescue Aspen volunteers said ski tracks went into the avalanche area roughly 200 feet below a fracture line spanning much of the mountain and topping out at roughly 11,500 feet. The avalanche happened shortly before 2:58 p.m., when the sheriff’s office received an emergency call from Luck. Lumsden said all three were caught in the avalanche, though it is unclear if Luck was partially buried or skied through the slide. Luck uncovered one of the victims from a 4-foot deposition zone and found him unconscious but breathing at the time of the emergency call, Lumsden said. The other skier had been partially uncovered from 8 feet of snow but was not breathing or conscious, according to Lumsden.By 4 p.m., Mountain Rescue Aspen had a team of six heading up on snowmobiles they borrowed from T-Lazy 7 Ranch. At the same time, an airplane and a helicopter mobilized for the search. The airplane was over the avalanche area by 4:15 p.m.

An air ambulance from Summit County flew a snow safety expert and medic to the scene by 4:30 p.m. Fifteen minutes later, other members of Mountain Rescue had arrived, including members of West Eagle Search and Rescue, based in El Jebel. At 5:30 p.m., Luck returned to the winter gate on a snowmobile driven by a rescuer.Lumsden said Luck spoke with rescue personnel in Aspen and with mental health professionals Tuesday evening. After Luck returned to Aspen, the helicopter transported the two bodies off the peak and down to Weller, where members of Mountain Rescue were waiting.

By 6:30 p.m., the first snowmobile arrived at the winter gate towing a sled with a body wrapped in a tarp. Soon afterward, a second snowmobile reached the bottom with another body. On the second sled were a helmet, telemark skis and a yellow backpack.The county coroner will determine cause of death.In all, five Pitkin County deputies, 15 members of Mountain Rescue and four members of West Eagle were involved in the operation. Everyone was out of the field by 7 p.m.Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is