Skier killed on Ajax |

Skier killed on Ajax

Steve Benson
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The man who died while skiing an out-of-bounds area on Aspen Mountain Saturday afternoon, David Bernard Lipschultz, sustained a traumatic neck injury, the Pitkin County Coroner said.

Lipschultz, 33, from Marina Del Ray, Calif., was skiing behind a friend in Pandora’s Box, a popular backcountry area east of the ski area near Walsh’s, when he fell into a tree well, according to a press release from the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office. Tree wells ” characterized by a large drop-off in the snow surface surrounding the base of a tree ” can be very dramatic in heavy snow years.

Lipschultz was found head-down in the tree well by his friend, who was not identified, after he climbed back uphill. Following an unsuccessful attempt to resuscitate Lipschultz, his friend re-entered the ski area boundary and contacted Aspen Mountain ski patrol via an emergency phone. Ski patrol notified the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office of the accident at 2:50 p.m. Saturday.

Upon locating Lipschultz, ski patrol also attempted to resuscitate him, unsuccessfully. Lipschultz was then extricated and transported downhill.

A former Aspen resident, Lipschultz had returned to the valley for a holiday visit.

Scott Thompson, chief deputy coroner for Pitkin County, said he did not yet know if Lipschultz collided with the tree, nor if he was wearing a helmet. He said his death is still under investigation.

“[His injuries] could have been caused from the way he landed in the snow,” Thompson said.

While it is not known what caused the injuries, Thompson said Lipschultz died from a hyper flexion of the neck, meaning his chin and head were pushed upward away from his chest, and he died “within seconds.”

Tree well-related accidents in the backcountry are more common than one might think, said Dick Jackson, owner of Aspen Expeditions and one of the country’s most experienced mountain guides.

“Ask people who [travel a lot] in the backcountry and you’ll find a pretty high percentage of people falling into tree wells and having their buttons pushed,” Jackson said of close calls. “It happens a lot ” it’s a very serious concern.”

He said tree wells are often a bigger concern than avalanches, since strategic steps can be taken to avoid avalanche-prone terrain, while falling into a tree well can happen suddenly and unexpectedly when skiing in tight trees.

“When we’re teaching or guiding, our biggest concern is not always the avalanche rating,” Jackson said, “but more objective concerns like shallow snowpack or tree wells.”

Suffocation, he said, is usually the main cause of death in tree well-related incidents, which is why he encourages skiing with partners at all times.

“What you think of most when falling into a tree well, face down or upside down, is suffocation,” Jackson said. “That’s why I always recommend a buddy system, specifically for those reasons.”

But Lipschultz’s death could not have been prevented by the buddy system and was the result of an occurrence not exclusive to the backcountry.

“Pandora’s gets skied so much it’s hard to call it backcountry,” Jackson said. “But a broken neck, that could easily happen inbounds or out of bounds.”

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