Slide victim suffocated
The man killed in Sunday’s avalanche in the Five Fingers Bowl area outside Aspen Highlands has been identified as John William Jensen.The Pitkin County Coroner’s Office said Jensen died of asphyxiation.Jensen, 32, most recently lived in New Mexico and California. Jensen was in Aspen participating in an Aspen Expeditions Level II avalanche education course. One of a party of six in the Highlands backcountry Sunday, Jensen was the only skier caught in the slide. Initial reports from the scene on Sunday indicated Jensen had suffered grave injuries during the slide, but Pitkin County Coroner Steven Ayers said there was no significant trauma. “We were all kind of surprised,” Ayers said Monday. “There must have been something about his clothing that made it look like [he had broken his legs], but there was no fracture or anything. And the head trauma was mostly vomit and some facial swelling and bruising and abrasions” – injuries Ayers described as superficial. Jensen was a student, Ayers said. “He had done some work at Los Alamos in New Mexico and some kind of work in California,” Ayers said.The Aspen Times is still seeking information about Jensen.The avalanche, which was reported by a skier on top of Highland Peak at 2:45 p.m. Sunday, carried Jensen about 3,500 feet down a gully. Jensen came to rest in the debris flow on a knoll above the floor of the Conundrum Creek Valley. It’s estimated he was buried for about 20 minutes before his party dug him out. Ayers said he did not know how deep Jensen was buried. “But I can’t imagine it was that deep for him to be extricated that quickly,” said Ayers.Aspen Expeditions owner and guide Dick Jackson said Monday evening that he had spent the day investigating the avalanche site.”We’re wanting to do a little bit more research to connect the dots here a little bit more before we make any statements,” Jackson said.An Aspen Expeditions spokeswoman told the Times on Monday: “We understand that efforts are being made to contact family members, and our heartfelt sympathy goes out to them.” Knox Williams, director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, said the backcountry conditions in Aspen on Sunday – moderate danger with pockets of considerable in areas favoring colder aspects – hadn’t changed much in the week preceding the fatal slide. “What we had was a midpack weak layer, and it was not getting any stronger,” Williams said. “It was something to really worry about in the snowpack.” Sunday’s slide originated on a north-northeast aspect at approximately 12,000 feet. “It’s obvious it was in one of the areas identified as consisting considerable danger,” Williams added. The party was located skier’s right of the gully on a rib when it slid. They were just below the top of Highlands ridge. A glimpse of the fracture-zone from the looking-glass at the top of Aspen Mountain Monday indicated the group had dug a snow-pit to gauge the stability of the slope. The crown of the slide was about 3 feet deep and 150 to 225 feet wide. Williams doesn’t think the sun, which had been beating down on parts of Five Fingers for most of the day, influenced the slide at all. “It was a northeast aspect, it should not have been affected too much by the sun,” he said. On Sunday evening, Highlands patrol director Mac Smith said the party was one of at least four to exit the ski area boundary during the day. The Highlands ridge is frequented by backcountry skiers. “The vast majority don’t trigger things, but that’s just the nature of the beast,” Williams said. “When one does [release] on a slope that size, the consequences can be terrible.” Williams added: “There are not too many days in a typical Colorado winter where you’re totally safe from avalanches on slopes steeper than 35 degrees. Retrospectively, they were in a bad place, but that’s something that comes with being in avalanche terrain.” Steve Benson’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org; Tim Mutrie’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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