Woman dies from Highlands fall
A 26-year-old German woman who tumbled down Steeplechase Wednesday has become the third person to die after a ski accident at Aspen Highlands in the last two weeks.And her’s was the fourth death from a ski accident at an Aspen/Snowmass ski area in the same time frame.The woman, whose name has not yet been released pending notification of family, died Thursday afternoon at St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction, said hospital spokesman Jeff Kirtland.She sustained critical head injuries in a fall down Soddbuster, a steep double-black-diamond run at Highlands.”She fell at the top of the run and essentially did a whole huge, long tumble,” said Mary Shelton, a trauma coordinator at Aspen Valley Hospital who talked with people who saw the fall. “It wasn’t even a slide. She just kept falling and hitting her head. She had a lot of serious injuries.”The three incidents at Highlands have come amidst a series of other ski-related accidents in the Aspen/Snowmass area this winter.Some accidents have been directly related to skiing, others have happened while someone was simply visiting the ski area, and some have occurred in the backcountry.On Dec. 30, a 56-year-old New York man suffered a heart attack aboard the Silver Queen Gondola and died later that day.On Jan. 23, Jason Slover, 30, of Basalt, was caught in an avalanche in McFarlane’s Bowl, near Aspen Mountain but outside of the ski area boundary. He lived but spent five days in the hospital with broken ribs, broken vertebrae and lung injuries.On Jan. 24, Tom Wyeakle, a 36-year-old Dallas man, sustained fatal neck injuries in a twisting, awkward fall in Bob’s Glade at Highlands.On Jan. 27, Marsha Krug, 53, of Ottawa, Ill., hit a tree on Hal’s Hollow at the Snowmass Ski Area and died of chest and abdominal injuries.On Feb. 1, Robert Littlewood, a 67-year-old Park City, Utah, man, skied past a catwalk near the bottom of Memory Lane at Highlands, triggered a small avalanche and suffocated in the resulting snow slide.On Feb. 4, Morely Goldberg, 74, of Washington Depot, Conn., had a heart attack at the Snowmass Ski Area. He died Thursday afternoon at Aspen Valley Hospital.And on Feb. 6, David Rooney, an Alamosa man in his late 30s, was killed in an avalanche on Crystal Peak near the Friend’s Hut in the backcountry between Aspen and Crested Butte. (See related story, page 5-A)The rash of death and serious injuries this winter has left the trauma unit at Aspen Valley Hospital weary.”It’s been bad this year,” said Shelton. “There have been a lot of serious injuries in a short period of time. It’s taking a toll on the staff.”The Aspen Skiing Co. reports that since the 1992-93 season, there had been five ski-related deaths at its ski areas, and no more than a single death had occurred in any one season.Of the five deaths in Aspen/Snowmass since 1992, three occurred after a skier hit a tree. And of the five deaths, three were at Snowmass, one was at Highlands and one was at Aspen Mountain.John Norton, the Skico’s chief operating officer, said there was no relationship between any of the three fatal ski accidents this season at Highlands. “All the accidents were distinctly different,” he said.When asked if the current hard snowpack played a role in the accidents, Norton said, “The snowpack is not unusual right now and is consistent across the four mountains. We can’t speculate whether the snowpack had anything to do with yesterday’s accident. That would be irresponsible.”The snowpack was hard Wednesday in Steeplechase, a double-black-diamond area. No new snow has fallen in at least a week, and the ski patrol posted signs this week warning skiers of the slick conditions in Highland Bowl, above Steeplechase.There have been seven ski-related deaths in Colorado so far this season, and over the past five years the number of ski-area deaths in the state has ranged between seven and 12 per season.”It’s very unusual,” said David Perry, the president of Colorado Ski Country, about the rash of accidents in Aspen/Snowmass this year.”It’s hard to talk about statistics when you have these human tragedies going on,” Perry said. “When someone dies skiing, it is a horrible thing, especially for friends and family. But when you take a deep breath and look at the statistics, this is clearly an aberration.”
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