Safe and sound, but out of bounds
Two separate search and rescue efforts outside the boundaries of Aspen and Snowmass ski areas ended on positive notes Monday. The more serious of the two efforts involved a 31-year-old female snowboarder who accidentally ventured off the backside of the Hanging Valley Headwall at Snowmass. She was later found above a waterfall in the West Willow Basin near T-Lazy-7 Ranch, an area that has been the sight of similar incidents over the years. According to Snowmass Mountain Manager Doug Mackenzie, Snowmass Ski Patrol received a report of a snowboard track outside the area’s boundary at about 3 p.m. Realizing the snowboarder missed a traverse leading back inbounds, patrol notified the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, which then assumed leadership of the search. Ski patrollers and members of Mountain Rescue Aspen assisted.Seven members of ski patrol began following the track down the drainage, with Mountain Rescue members and sheriff’s deputies traveling up from T-Lazy-7, Mackenzie said. About five hours into the search, the two groups converged at an area of the drainage lined with steep cliffs and a waterfall. The woman, whose identity was not released as of press time, was contacted at about 8:15 p.m. and helped to safety; she was reportedly cold and wet but otherwise fine. Earlier in the day, Aspen Mountain Ski Patrol spotted three tracks traveling out of bounds below Lud’s Lane, the catwalk that leads out of the Walsh’s area. The sheriff’s office was notified at about 1:30 p.m. Sheriff’s deputy and veteran Aspen Mountain patroller Jim Hearn said the nature of the area below Lud’s Lane was cause for concern. “We don’t respond to every track, there’s hundreds of them,” Hearn said. “But that area below Walsh’s is not good skiing. When tracks are reported there, ski patrol will report it to [the sheriff’s office].” An unidentified individual emerged from the area unharmed. But according to Hearn, two snowboarders from Missouri apparently followed the first person out of bounds and weren’t quite as fortunate. At about 2:30 p.m. the sheriff’s office received a call from a cross-country skier at North Star Preserve who had run across one of the snowboarders. He was fine, but his friend, identified as Kerry Austin, was reportedly exhausted and unable to get out on his own power, Hearn said. A deputy snowshoed to the man and helped him out of the area to the valley floor. Neither men needed medical attention, and since Aspen Mountain has an open boundary policy – you can leave the ski area at any point as long as you don’t return – they weren’t ticketed. “We haven’t had a lot of problems lately, but then we get just a little bit of new snow and there’s been a couple instances of intermediate skiers going off the area,” Hearn said. “It’s people unfamiliar with the area and that’s what puts them in trouble.” Steve Benson’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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