Mountain biker who died at Snowmass ID’d as Woody Creek local, kayaking expert

David Krause and Jason Auslander
The Aspen Times
David Eckardt
Facebook profile photo

The man who died Saturday mountain biking at Snowmass Ski Area was identified Monday as a resident of Woody Creek and was part of Colorado’s old-school kayaking community.

Dr. Steve Ayers, Pitkin County coroner, said Monday that David Eckardt, 62, was conscious and talking when another biker found him at 1:10 p.m. Saturday.

However, when mountain patrol and medical staff arrived about 10 minutes later Eckardt was in full cardiac arrest from trauma and paramedics were not successful in reviving him, Ayers said.

The cause of Eckardt’s death is not yet known, though Ayers said a head injury is unlikely because Eckardt was conscious when first found.

An autopsy is scheduled for later this week, he said. Officials believe Eckardt was wearing a helmet at the time of the crash, though that is not certain, Ayers said.

Eckardt was the co-author of “Colorado Rivers & Creeks,” a book that was published in the 1995 (with Gordon Banks) and was considered a complete guide to rafting and kayaking in Colorado. Eckardt also wrote “Guide to Baja Sea Kayaking,” which was published in 2008.

Tom Chamberlain, along with his brother Barry, were considered the original “Adrenaline Brothers” of kayaking more than 20 years ago and spent a lot of time with Eckardt in the late 1980s and ’90s taking river trips around Colorado and the world. Chamberlain, who was a contributing editor to the Colorado rivers book, said Monday that guide was important to the kayaking community and was a complement to the first true kayaking book “Rivers of the Southwest,” which was published in 1987 by Fletcher Anderson and Ann Hopkinson.

“I’ve done a lot of adventures with him. I’m really sad to see him go,” said Chamberlain, who is an architect in Montrose. “His and Gordon’s book was the first real serious whitewater book of Colorado that really included the gnarly Class V stuff that people are doing now. The book they did was the first modern book that took into account the Class V waters and plastic boats. It was a big step from ‘Rivers of the Southwest.’”

“Colorado Rivers & Creeks” was so popular a second edition was printed in 2000 with updates. Many paddlers call it the bible or “Old Testament” to Colorado kayaking.

“I have that book still and am constantly using. I still use it a lot,” Chamberlain said.

He said their boating crew went on a big expedition in January 1997 to Ecuador and spent weeks in South American country “doing a bunch of first descents and exploring a bunch of rivers. We had quite a crew down there.”

“As long as I’ve know him, he boated hardcore stuff. He was an incredible backcountry skier,” Chamberlain said. “I didn’t know he was that serious of a mountain biker. … This is a total shocker.”

Scott Willoughby is a longtime Colorado outdoors writer and river advocate who became friends with Eckardt after a chance meeting. They met about 20 years ago in a coffee shop near Taos, New Mexico, on the way to kayak the Class V section of the Upper Taos Box, he recalled Monday.

“Dave was pretty low-profile, a humble but adventurous guy who inspired thousands of kayakers and rafters to go out and explore the rivers of Colorado and the West through his books and, if you knew him, lifestyle,” Willoughby said. “I recognized his name as the author of Colorado’s whitewater ‘bible’ and asked him if he’d show us the lines. He just laughed and said, ‘Sure, if I can remember them.’”

Eckardt likely was riding alone on the Valhalla trail on the Elk Camp side of Snowmass when the accident occurred, officials said.

Eckardt’s sister posted on his Facebook page that a memorial service/gathering would be scheduled in Aspen sometime in November or December.

His is the second mountain biking death on the trail since July 2017, when 67-year-old David Duff of Kentucky fractured his neck after attempting a jump on the trail.

Valhalla is a black-rated trail recommended for advanced rides and is just under 3 miles long and features berms, jumps, bridges, tabletops and a wall ride.