Forest Service to investigate deadly Snowmass avalanche | AspenTimes.com

Forest Service to investigate deadly Snowmass avalanche

Aspen, CO ColoradoASPEN The U.S. Forest Service is following standard procedure by looking into the avalanche death of Blake Davidson at Snowmass Ski Area last week, officials with the Aspen Ranger District said Wednesday.Snowmass operates under a U.S. Forest Service permit because national forest lands are used for the operation. As the agency issuing the permit, it must do an incident report whenever there is a fatal accident in the ski area, according to Jim Stark, winter sports administrator for the service’s Aspen office.Stark checked the scene of the slide in the Hanging Valley Wall section of Snowmass on Saturday. He said a colleague from his office visited the site with ski patrollers Friday and took pictures.Stark said, at a minimum, he will file an incident report on the accident. A public statement will likely be released when the report is issued, possibly as soon as next week, he said.He will confer with officials in the regional and national office after the holiday break to discuss whether a detailed accident investigation is required. When the agency feels that is necessary, a team of specialists examines the accident site.Stark said he doubts that an accident investigation is warranted. Aspen District Ranger Bill Westbrook agreed.For his report, Stark said he will review the witness statements and other information the Aspen Skiing Co. compiled. He will also review a report the Colorado Avalanche Information Center is preparing on the slide itself.”It was pretty clear what happened,” Stark said.The study may examine the issue of whether additional “closed” signs would be useful lower on the cliff bands that were accessed by Davidson and a companion, according to Stark. However, he also said it is impossible to mark all the expert terrain in rocky, heavily forested areas like Hanging Valley Wall.”Not too long ago people wouldn’t have thought about hucking the cliffs,” he said.Davidson and his ski partner encountered a closed sign at the top of Rayburn’s Chute, went around it on open terrain to skier’s left, then traversed back to the right into a cliff band the ski patrol considered closed, according to the Skico’s investigation.Davidson jumped approximately 40 feet to where the chute opened up at the base of the cliff, triggering an avalanche when he landed. The Skico investigation concluded he landed in a closed area. The avalanche swept him into an area that was open.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com.