Miracle Boy: harrowing plummet not intentional,
The young man who went into a closed area and fell at least 60 feet off a cliff at the Snowmass Ski Area Tuesday said it was a “stupid mistake.”Jay Schultz, a 24-year-old bellman at the Timberline condos in Snowmass Village, said in an interview yesterday that he didn’t realize he was in a closed area to the skier’s left of the double-black-diamond Roberto’s trail until he was past the rope.”Yes, I did go under the rope,” Schultz said. “The rope was at least 8 to 10 feet above the snow surface. I did not realize the rope was there until I was under it.”Schultz was not hurt in the accident. He landed with his skis on in deep, soft snow. He was stuck in the snow and yelled for help and then the ski patrol came and dug him out.This is the first winter Schultz has spent at Snowmass. A recent graduate of Saginaw Valley State University in Michigan, he said he is a “very good” skier. He was planning to enter today’s extreme freeride contest at Snowmass and had noticed what he thought was a skiable line on what are called the Upper Alpine Cliffs between Roberto’s and Impossible, a narrow chute that is sometimes skied by patrol but is not open to the public.Roberto’s, the Hanging Valley Headwall and the roped-off area Schultz entered are in a section of the ski area that is reserved for expert skiers. Access is on foot through a gate at the top of the High Alpine lift.Schultz apparently traversed, alone, to the left above the entrance to Roberto’s. He went past the top of a steep narrow section called the Hourglass and under a rope to the top ridge of the cliff. From the top of the cliff on a clear day, there is a sweeping view of the Hanging Valley Headwall to the right. To the left, there is a direct view down the Two Creeks lift line. And out in front, it is easy to sense that the world drops away at your feet. On Tuesday, it had snowed 7 inches overnight and low clouds and fog made for very poor visibility.Once Schultz had traversed past the rope, he realized he was in a closed area.”I was concentrating on where I was going,” he said. “I get to a point where I’m like, ‘OK, I’m going to stop, I’m going to scope, I’m going to see what’s going on.’ I look around and I go, ‘Oh, yeah, that probably makes sense that this is a closed area.’ “And then I’m like, ‘Oh, crap.’ It was one of those brain farts in life. I am not a stupid person. I don’t know why I did this. It can be summed up as a stupid mistake. Simple, just a stupid mistake. At that point, I was starting to get a little nervous and I was looking for a way to get out and I was already too far into it.”He said the snow was too soft to allow him to sidestep up and out of the closed area.”It was like, ‘OK, I know there is a line here,'” he continued, “and at that point, it wasn’t ‘let’s see’ anymore – it was survival.”While Schultz has not had avalanche or snow-stability training, he said he tried to gauge if the snow beneath him was “cohesive.””So I tried to do a little snow-testing, tried to kick it and get it to go before me,” he said. “It seemed pretty stable.”At this point, Schultz said he could still see Roberto’s.”I went to traverse over, and that’s when the snow gave way on me,” he said. “I had no control over the fact that I was sliding sideways. It was just a matter of seconds, and I just felt the free-fall. And I was just thinking to myself, ‘What am I going to hit? What am I going to hit?'”I landed, realized that my face was covered and that I had snow in my mouth. I was able to pull that away and get it out of my mouth and get an airway going and calm myself down a little bit. And I just waved my hand and yelled.”Schultz was dug out and taken to the hospital but felt fine by Tuesday afternoon. He had a few bruises and felt a little sore around his midsection. But he could have easily have been killed.”All that is under that snow where he landed is rocks,” said Daryl Pederson, the ski patrol director at Snowmass. “That’s just a huge cliff band and rock-slide area. He also could have tumbled down over the cliff and banged into something on the way down. But he just free-fell.”And Schultz is not without a sense of how lucky his stars are. In an e-mail to The Aspen Times, he signed off as “the miracle boy.” Schultz was not sure how far down the cliff face he was when he fell, but he does remember sidestepping a bit down the upper snow-covered portion of the cliff before trying to traverse. But there is at least 60 feet of sheer cliff face above where he landed, which is about a snowball’s throw from the rope line at the skier’s left of lower Roberto’s. The hole he made in the snow was still visible Thursday afternoon.And while Schultz felt he was indeed “swept over” the cliff, there weren’t signs of an avalanche where he landed.”It didn’t look like a big slab,” said Kyle Sharp, a skier who didn’t see Schultz fall but reached the scene just after he landed. “There were no rocks or debris. It looked like just a little slough.”The cliff area where Schultz was on Tuesday had been controlled about an hour earlier by patrol for avalanches. “There wasn’t an avalanche,” Pederson said. “There was evidently a small patch of snow that broke under his feet. He broke a pillow off. “You could bomb that area all day and if you didn’t throw something exactly on that particular pillow … which wasn’t really a threat to anyone unless you stood on it.”Pederson met with Schultz on Wednesday morning and pulled his pass for the rest of the season. Schultz was also referred to the Snowmass Village police, who arrested him for skiing in a closed area, fined him $150 and let him go.Schultz felt he was unfairly characterized in the media yesterday as a “deviant criminal.””I am not a deviant criminal, but rather a naive Midwestern college graduate who found myself in over my head,” he wrote in his e-mail. “I did not intentionally ski into a closed area and endanger my, or anyone else’s lives. I ended up in a dangerous situation both by inexperience and by stupidity. I realize that where I was wrong, and I apologize to my rescuers and to myself for what happened, however, I am not a bad person.”Pederson agrees.”He’s a nice kid,” Pederson said. However, he added, “He was in a closed area. Permanently closed. And as I told Mr. Schultz, you are responsible to know where you are at the ski area at all times.”
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