Fifth day in search for Aspen skier yields no results
ASPEN – A fifth day of searching failed to turn up any sign of Jeff Walker at Aspen Highlands, according to the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office.
An eight-member team from Mountain Rescue Aspen searched the steep, timber-covered terrain below the Olympic Bowl catwalk starting at 9 a.m. Thursday. They focused on areas where a skier could potentially slide off the catwalk and down the steep slope, according to a statement from the Sheriff’s Office.
A second three-member team searched an area south of South Hayden Road in the Castle Creek Valley after a person reported seeing tracks. That search in the afternoon also yielded no results, the Sheriff’s Office reported.
Buzz Walker, Jeff’s brother, said the uncertainty of situation is wearing on the family, which has waited each day at the base of Aspen Highlands and regularly conferred with officials from Aspen Skiing Co., Mountain Rescue and the Sheriff’s Office.
“The mornings and afternoons are full of hope,” Buzz Walker said. “Then, when everyone sees the ski patrol come off, the mood kind of crashes.”
Each day with no sign of his brother gives way to a night of wondering where he could be, said Buzz Walker, who is in Aspen with his two sisters and their mother as well as extended family and numerous friends.
When asked if the family has pondered if it was possible that his brother isn’t on Highlands, Buzz Walker replied that the family has an ongoing joke that he is alive and decided to run off and “live as a hermit in the Andes.” Their hope is they will find him alive, “and we’ll kill him ourselves,” he said with a laugh.
Their expectation is that he is at Aspen Highlands somewhere. Buzz Walker is going back to Maryland Friday to return to work, but his family will remain through the weekend and possibly longer. The family established a website Wednesday to raise money to help with expenses connected to the search. More than $11,000 had been donated by late Thursday afternoon.
The family hired a helicopter Wednesday to fly two trained spotters over the ski area and adjacent backcountry to look for clues.
Jeff Walker, 55, an Aspen resident and wine consultant and salesman, was seen last at Aspen Highlands on March 7. His pass was scanned at the ski-area base at 12:04 p.m. Friends said he is an expert skier who skied Highland Bowl every day.
Buzz said the family will pursue any leads and use its own resources, if need be, to find Jeff. He said his family appreciates the effort of authorities and residents of Aspen.
“We’re very thankful for everyone’s support,” he said. We recognize it. It’s a comfort for everyone.”
The Sheriff’s Office Incident Management Team and Mountain Rescue officials were evaluating last evening the need for additional searches.
“Investigators with the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office will continue to focus their attention on leads from the public,” the Sheriff’s Office said. “As leads are investigated, field operations may start again, as needed.”
The Sheriff’s Office is urging anyone with information that might be useful to the investigation to come forward. “Any information the public may have about Jeff Walker, his actions since Thursday, March 7 or information about his whereabouts is being sought,” the release said.
The Sheriff’s Office can be contacted at 970-920-5300.
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