Snowmass patrollers find missing snowboarder |

Snowmass patrollers find missing snowboarder

Allyn Harvey

Aspen, CO ColoradoSNOWMASS A Boulder man spent much of Saturday night postholing his way out of a remote section of Burnt Mountain as Snowmass ski patrollers searched for him.The man, whose name authorities declined to release, appears to have survived 12 hours in the backcountry without suffering any major injuries, despite plummeting temperatures and long hours slogging through the snow.The man was snowboarding off-piste on Burnt Mountain with a local man who reportedly promised to be his guide. The Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, which coordinated the rescue, also declined to name the local man, whom they described as a longtime local who was familiar with the area.Deputy Bruce Benson said the two men became separated near the backcountry gate they used to access the uncontrolled area of Burnt Mountain. Without a local guiding him, the Boulder man, who is in his early 40s, rode past the point where he needed to stop and traverse back toward the ski area.He rode down a ravine and became stuck in deep snow. He apparently realized he was too low and decided to climb out instead of continuing down. “I was surprised by his decision,” Benson said. “Snowboarders almost always go with the fall line – it’s rare for them to turn around.”The ravine eventually opens up on Mandalay Ranch in the Owl Creek drainage, but not before a long stretch of narrow and steep terrain that is highly avalanche-prone.Benson said the Boulder man spent about three hours trying to climb out of the ravine before his girlfriend alerted the Sheriff’s Office. During that time, the lost man was on his cell phone with his girlfriend and the local guide. Around 4:45 p.m. Saturday, the girlfriend called 911 to report her boyfriend lost.Benson said two teams of patrollers began sweeping through Burnt Mountain but had trouble picking out the victim’s tracks from the tracks of other snowboarders and skiers who had entered the area on Saturday. “At one point they sounded pretty dejected – there were so many tracks out there,” Benson said. But finally they found that set of tracks that appeared to be this guy’s.”By first investigating the errant claim by the local guide that his partner was within “whistling distance” of safety, and then by conducting multiple sweeps, the ski patrol eventually found the missing man’s tracks. It took seven sweeps by two patrol teams on skis and snowmobiles.Benson said he nearly called off the search after the rescuers reported encounters with a few small but potentially life-threatening avalanches, but decided at the time to heed the protests of the ski patrollers who wanted to keep searching. Benson, who has worked for 32 seasons as a part- or full-time employee of the Snowmass patrol, said he trusted their judgment.”I know the temps were dropping for them,” Benson said. “I personally was worried that the guy was hypothermic and sitting under a tree going down, or he was under an avalanche.”Aspen Skiing Co. spokesman Jeff Hanle said the company’s temperature gauge at the top of Aspen Highlands registered minus 1 degree at 5 a.m. Sunday. He estimated the temperature on Burnt Mountain fell to around zero degrees.Once the ski patrol found the lost man’s tracks, it was a matter of catching up with him. Patrollers found him at 1:15 a.m., cold and tired, but otherwise uninjured. The patrollers decided they were close enough to safety to allow him to continue walking out under his own power. After they accompanied him out, the patrol handed him over to the Snowmass-Wildcat paramedics, who took him to the hospital.”I can’t say enough about the guys on the patrol,” Benson said. “They went way above and beyond what they were expected to do.”The Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, the Snowmass Ski Area administration, the Snowmass Village Police Department and Snowmass-Wildcat paramedics all assisted with the rescue.Benson briefly interviewed the man before he was transported to the hospital, asking about his decision to continue to travel up and across the hill toward the ski area instead of continuing down the ravine he was in or following the fall line into any of the other ravines he encountered. “He said, ‘Yeah, I wasn’t going to let that happen again.'”