Slide sends shock waves through skiing community |

Slide sends shock waves through skiing community

Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Seven strong and experienced backcountry skiers were killed Monday in the northern Selkirk Mountains in British Columbia, Canada.

They were on a professionally guided trip with Selkirk Mountain Expeditions north of Revelstoke on the west side of Roger’s Pass.

Split into two groups, one party was above the other on a slope when an avalanche swept down, burying eight of the 11 skiers in the lower group.

Two men from Aspen were on the trip, but unhurt. Among the victims was Craig Kelly, a highly acclaimed professional snowboarder and mountain guide who was friends with Aspen Olympic snowboarder Chris Klug.

SME was run by Ruedi Beglinger, who was a fully certified guide by the Swiss and International Mountain Guide Associations. He was intimately familiar with the high country around the two huts he and his wife ran.

“I was very surprised that it happened on Ruedi’s watch,” said Neal Beidleman, an accomplished mountaineer who first skied with SME in 1993. “Ruedi knows the backcountry conditions as well as anybody. How it happened, who knows?

“The mountains are fickle things. No matter how many precautions you take, you can’t make the risk go to zero. That’s the nature of the sport. And no matter how good or how safe we think we are, there is always an element of risk and danger.

“And Ruedi is as professional as they get. Ruedi is very, very good. He is really good about watching where he goes.”

Dick Jackson runs Aspen Expeditions in Aspen and is the current president of the American Mountain Guides Association. He books backcountry trips for his clients in association with Golden Alpine Holidays, which like SME, takes people on helicopter-in, but climb-to-ski trips.

Jackson agreed that Ruedi was highly professional. And cautioned against a rush to judgment.

“I think it is really important when things like this happen to back off the judgmental thing and stick to what happened,” Jackson said.

“The snowpack up there was less stable than they normally have. There was early snow, then warming, then a rain crust, faceting and slab on top of that. There were definite layers in there. The regional forecast was ‘considerable.'”

The tragedy cast a pall over Revelstoke, the town of 8,000 that is surrounded with snowcat operations.

And it sent shock waves throughout the skiing world, including Aspen.

“There are dozens of people in Aspen that have skied with Ruedi,” Jackson said.

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