Slide victim was out in front alone | AspenTimes.com

Slide victim was out in front alone

Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The man who died Wednesday in an avalanche on Crystal Peak was skiing out in front of the rest of his group when he triggered the slide that killed him, officials say.

David Rooney, 39, of Monte Vista, was reported to be 10 or 15 minutes ahead and out of site of the other skiers who were on a backcountry hut trip with him.

The group had started its trip to the Friend’s Hut at Ashcroft, above Aspen. They hiked over Pearl Pass to reach the hut, some 10 miles from the trailhead. The area is between Aspen and Crested Butte. On Wednesday, the group started the day at the Friend’s Hut and went skiing on the slopes above the structure.

“It is not known what exactly happened as no one witnessed the avalanche, but tracks indicate the victim was traversing across a snow cover only about four inches deep,” wrote Dale Atkins of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center in a report posted on the center’s Web site. “He encountered deeper snow on a 40-degree convex roll, where he triggered an 18-inch-deep fracture line. This fracture eventually stepped to the ground, and the slide ran approximately 300 vertical feet.”

Rooney’s group included five other skiers: Chris Webster of Boulder; Myron McCallum, 43, of Lafayette; Kirk Kritner, 47; Robert Stroheker, 47; and Stephen Schiffer, 52. The latter three are from Alamosa.

Rooney had been the attorney for Alamosa County since 1997.

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“Five out of the six went skiing that morning around the Friend’s Hut,” said Sgt. Randy Laudick of the Mount Crested Butte Police Department, which works on some cases under the jurisdiction of the Gunnison County Sheriff’s Office. “They were skiing around the area of Crystal Pass and were all kind of in different groups or separated from each other.”

Officials believe Rooney and Webster may have been closest to each other, but that Rooney was alone out in front.

“It sounds like he was the strongest skier of them all and was way ahead of each of them,” said Laudick. “They said that he had gone to the top of a hill. He was traversing across the ridge line when it broke loose and carried him down. Chris Webster came upon the slide, and he went over” to try and dig him out.

Webster was soon joined by Kritner, and they dug Rooney out and attempted to revive him, according to police reports.

No one else was injured in the slide.

“They located the victim in about three minutes,” the CAIC report on the accident states. “Total burial time was estimated at about 20 minutes. The victim was buried about four feet deep. He was buried near the high end of the debris.”

Laudick did not have an autopsy report as of Sunday evening. A team from Crested Butte Search and Rescue brought out Rooney’s body on Friday.

Rooney was said to be an active outdoorsman who enjoyed rock climbing, rafting and cross country skiing. He was active in the Alamosa community as a supporter of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the San Luis Valley and was highly regarded by many in Alamosa.

He was “one of the good ones, a consummate professional and gentleman at all times,” Judge Robert Ogburn of the 12th Judicial District told the Pueblo Chieftain newspaper.

Rooney graduated from Colorado College in 1985 and earned his law degree from the University of Denver in 1989. He leaves behind a wife and three young children.