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Friends of avalanche victim surprised, sorrowed

Catherine Lutz
Published: Jon Seigle, school board president, said the board chose for years to spend its ample reserves in order to maintain high educational standards. ÒI wouldnÕt change anything we did,Ó he says. Aspen Times photo/Paul Conrad.
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Friends say an Aspen resident who died in an avalanche while skiing off-piste in the French Alps was safety-conscious to a fault.An avid expert skier, Jon Seigle was skiing with an American guide and a friend, Gary Sawyer of Basalt, on Monday afternoon near the ski area of Montgenvre when the massive slide occurred.According to a report the rescue team filed with ANENA, a French avalanche and snow study organization, the three Americans triggered a soft slab while skiing on a northwest-facing, 40-degree slope at 7,550 feet. The slide caught and buried Seigle and the guide – Gary Ashurst of Ketchum, Idaho. Sawyer had not started skiing and was not caught or injured.The avalanche, which had a 3-foot crown, traveled about 1,650 feet. The debris field was 650 feet wide and 6.5 feet deep. Ashurst, who skied down first, was seriously injured, and Seigle died of trauma; rescuers found him against a tree trunk. Seigle was carrying a beacon, probe and shovel, and he was wearing an AvaLung, a device designed to allow a buried person to breathe air trapped in the snowpack.According to Seigle’s close friend Jeff Tippett, the group had chosen to ski in the gladed area because it was presumably safer – trees usually help stabilize the snow – and it was one of Seigle’s favorite spots. It had been snowing heavily, avalanche danger was high for the area, and the ski lift at La Grave, where they had originally planned to go, was not operating.”In all of our minds he was the most unlikely person in our group to even be hurt,” said Mike Flynn, a close friend and member of Seigle’s daily Aspen Mountain ski group. “For us to think of Jon not being here because of a ski accident is incomprehensible because he was by far the most safety conscious.”According to Flynn and Tippett, Seigle is one of the few in the group who wears a helmet, he shied away from going on Canada ski trips because of the danger, and he got assurances from a La Grave guide during a previous trip that they wouldn’t do anything he wasn’t comfortable with.Friends remember Seigle as being particularly kind and thoughtful; he knew all the lift operators on Aspen Mountain by name and would bring gifts to them on the last day of the season, Tippett said.Tippett remembers skiing with Seigle in Val d’Isere, France, with 2 feet of new snow, stopping to catch his breath because he was choking on snow, then watching Seigle ski, seeing just a hand, then his head, then another hand, because the snow was so deep. “That’s my memory of Jon, and that’s what’s keeping me going,” he said.Seigle was a strong supporter of local schools’ outdoor education program; the Jon Seigle Memorial Fund has been set up through the Aspen School District to support experiential education in the district. A memorial service is planned for Monday at the Aspen District Theatre. The time has yet to be confirmed.


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