Snowmass mourns Chip Johnson’s death
Carl “Chip” Johnson, the Snowmass Village man who was killed Tuesday in an avalanche, was remembered yesterday as the “unofficial mall ambassador of Snowmass” by a longtime friend.
“He was a great guy,” said Keith Long, a friend and co-worker of Johnson’s. “Everybody in Snowmass loved him and we’re going to miss him. He really went out of his way to help people.”
Johnson, 37, was caught in avalanche late Tuesday afternoon in Hurricane Gulch, a backcountry area located off Richmond Ridge on the backside of Aspen Mountain. Alone at the time of the accident, Johnson was buried in about six feet of avalanche debris, authorities said.
Apparently Johnson and his girlfriend snowmobiled from the Aspen ski area Tuesday afternoon to the top of Hurricane Gulch, according to Debbie Kelly, president of Mountain Rescue Aspen. Kelly and nine fellow rescuers, as well as Deputy Scott Thompson, responded to the scene to help recover the body.
“The story I heard is that they were going to her house – she lives at the bottom of Hurricane,” Kelly said. “He hopped off the sled and skied the upper part of the bowl – which is usually pretty safe – and then into the gulch, where it usually slides.”
Long confirmed the accident scenario.
Johnson triggered a slide in the lower gulch area, and when he did not return to his girlfriend’s residence, she alerted several neighbors who initiated a search.
Four Little Annie Basin residents, including Dan Bunta and Aspen Mountain ski patroller Annie Bollinger, probed the avalanche debris and located Johnson sometime afterward, though efforts to resuscitate him were unsuccessful. Bollinger is an emergency medical technician.
Pitkin County Deputy Coroner Tom Walsh said Johnson suffocated to death.
“The death was pretty quick,” Walsh said, “because he had snow in his airway.”
Kelly said an avalanche in that same area of Hurricane Gulch claimed the lives of two dogs that were tagging along with some skiers a few years back.
“It’s a known avalanche path – a steep-sided gully,” Kelly said. “It’s not a huge area, but all the snow comes from the sides of the gully and piles up in the base of it. It’s a steep little pocket in there.”
The pitch of Hurricane Gulch approaches 40 degrees, making it prime for avalanches, Kelly said.
“Skiing in a known avalanche path – it’s just one of those questions: “Did he know it was an avalanche path? Did she know it was an avalanche path? Who knows what they knew,” Kelly said, “but I would definitely call Hurricane Gulch a terrain trap. It’s a broad open slope on top and then it chokes down into a gulch below.”
Long said Johnson was a great skier. “And he had a pretty extensive knowledge of the backcountry, too. He got out quite a bit over the years,” he said.
“But more than a skier, he was a really good person,” Long continued. “He was what we called the unofficial mall ambassador at Snowmass.”
Johnson lived in the upper Roaring Fork Valley for some 15 years, Long said, working primarily at Aspen Sports in Snowmass Village.
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