Local killed in avalanche | AspenTimes.com

Local killed in avalanche

Tim Mutrie

A local man who publicly apologized last week for skiing in a closed area died Friday afternoon in an avalanche in an out-of-bounds area at Aspen Highlands.

Lonnie Moore, 45, of Missouri Heights, was skiing in a backcountry area below Steeplechase with friend Mark Furlong when he got caught and buried in a snowslide, according to Deputy Bruce Benson of the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office and also a part-time Snowmass ski patroller.

Moore is the first person to die from a skiing-related accident this season on one of the Aspen Skiing Co.’s four mountains.

Furlong, who escaped the slide, located Moore’s body “at some point after the avalanche” and then skied down safely and alerted authorities, Benson said.

Both men were “experienced backcountry skiers,” but it appears as though they were ill-equipped for the dangerous conditions of the day, Benson said. On Friday, “the Forest Service posted a high avalanche warning for the backcountry.”

A week ago, Moore wrote a letter to The Aspen Times publicly apologizing for skiing in a closed section of Highlands Bowl. The ski patrol pulled his season skiing pass after the incident.

“This was inappropriate and irresponsible behavior,” Moore wrote on Jan. 18. “It was dangerous to myself and others. I apologize.”

The Highlands Ski Patrol required Moore to write the letter as part of an education program that allowed him to get his season pass reinstated.

The Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office mounted an effort to recover Moore’s body Saturday morning, with help from the Aspen Highlands Ski Patrol.

“The Highlands Ski Patrol exhibited immense knowledge, experience and professionalism in ensuring a safe recovery effort,” said Benson, who was one of the seven-member team.

“The first thing that was said was, `We are not going in there if there’s a chance of anybody getting hurt,” said Benson.

Extensive avalanche control work was required before the team could access the area safely, he said.

“We literally bombed our way out of there,” he said. Their charges triggered “several” avalanches in the process, he added.

Benson characterized the area where the avalanche occurred as an “extremely hazardous slide area,” due to the conditions.

“All those bowls up above narrow into steep, avalanche-prone gullies,” he said.

Though there are quite a few trees on the pitch, Benson said that doesn’t lessen one’s chances of setting off an avalanche.

“You can have an avalanche in very tight trees; it doesn’t have to be open at all,” he said. “A season like this one just accentuates the backcountry danger.”

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