Ski-parachuter crashes on Quandary Peak
Summit County correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
SUMMIT COUNTY – A 40-year-old man from Michigan suffered injuries on Quandary Peak Sunday afternoon after his parachute “lost wind,” sending him crashing into rocks.
The man, identified only as Victor, was “speed gliding” – a hybrid of skiing and paragliding, popular in Europe, according to Summit County Rescue Group (SCRG). The sport, also known as speed flying, speed riding, and ski gliding, involves a small parachute attached to a skier, allowing the skier to lift off the ground intermittently, depending on wind speed and direction.
Victor and a fellow speed glider hiked to the 14,265-foot summit of Quandary Peak, south of Breckenridge, early Sunday afternoon. The two men intended to ski down the East Ridge, make a sharp turn either to the left or right, and then glide to the bottom.
Five unrelated bystanders, who happened to be hiking Quandary that day, chatted with the two gliders at the summit.
“We were just kind of curious about what he was doing and why,” said Len Shipman, 66, of Silverthorne, who was training for an upcoming ascent of Mt. Washington.
The first man successfully sailed to the bottom of the mountain along its south side.
“Victor was waiting for wind, but it never seemed to be strong enough. Meanwhile, we started going down the mountain. A couple hundred yards from the summit, we turned to watch Victor. We were concerned, since we were the only ones on the summit, and we wanted to make sure he made it off OK,” Shipman said.
At about 1:30 p.m., Shipman watched Victor take off from the summit, and saw the descent quickly go awry.
“It just seemed like he lost the wind. When he came down, he caught a ski on a rock. Both skis came off, and he went tumbling into the rocks,” Shipman said.
Shipman called 911, and the five hikers stayed with the injured man while they waited for emergency responders.
“(We) stabilized him and tried to keep him warm, until search and rescue arrived. We tried to get him as comfortable as we could, giving him our extra clothing and hand warmers, communicating with him to keep his spirits up,” Shipman said.
SCRG estimated the temperature to be 5 degrees below zero near the peak’s summit during the evacuation. According to Shipman, the man suffered compound fractures in his lower leg.
Flight for Life’s Lifeguard One helicopter, based in Denver, responded to SCRG’s request for assistance and shuttled three rescuers and medical gear to a landing zone about 1,000 feet below the injured man. Vail Mountain Rescue and Alpine Rescue Team responded to aid requests as well. A total of 29 rescuers from the three teams were dispatched into the field, most climbing the peak via the popular East Ridge Trail.
The first paramedic to arrive splinted Victor’s leg and placed him on a toboggan. The hikers then helped rescuers belay the sled down the mountain until about 7 p.m.
“I felt really fortunate that we happened to be there,” Shipman said. “He might not have made it through the night. The group of Samaritans were willing to do whatever it took to deal with the situation.”
Teams of rescuers continued to bring the patient down in what ended up being a strenuous, 8-hour-long effort, using a combination of hand-carrying, sliding in a toboggan and belayed lowering systems. The patient reached a waiting ambulance from Summit County Ambulance Service at about 11:15 p.m.
Shipman checked in on Victor Monday.
“He’s fine – he’s a pretty durable guy. He has a great attitude and a good sense of humor,” Shipman said.
Shipman commended his fellow hikers and the rescuers involved in the evacuation.
“I’m very proud of the group of volunteer people. We saw this guy’s life was in the balance, and we pretty much did what was required. And I’m so impressed with the search-and-rescue folks. They’re all volunteers and a very professional, amazing group of people,” Shipman said.
According to the patient’s companion, Victor is an experienced speed gliding instructor with many hours of flight time.
“The SCRG and the Summit County Sheriff’s Office would like to express their sincere gratitude to these five hikers, who aided and expedited the rescue effort significantly,” SCRG spokesperson Anna DeBattiste said in a statement issued Monday.
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Colorado’s Western Slope is considered a climate hot spot where temperatures are increasing faster than the global average. This warming has contributed to more than 20 years of dryness, which scientists are calling a megadrought.