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Whoa. Owner of Wolf Creek faces criminal charges for explosive use in the backcountry. - Page 3

post #61 of 78

@anachronism regarding the question above, remind us if you would... is Wolf Creek is on Forest Service land?  What about the proposed expansion?  That obviously makes a huge difference in how difficult they can make life for the owner/ski area.

post #62 of 78

Snowbrains has also reported on this.  I'm not sure if it has much information (if any) that is new in this thread. 

 

http://snowbrains.com/wolf-creek-co-fined-14000-avalanche-death-ski-patroller-criminal-charges-filed-owner/

post #63 of 78
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by core2 View Post
 

So what happens if he gets nailed on all the charges and fines - what does it mean for the ski area?

 

The eye opening part of this for me is that it peers behind the veil of the relationship between the ski area and the Forest Service. Obviously, given the fact that they leveled criminal charges against him, one can assume they aren't friends at the moment.

 

What does it mean for operations? Pretty much nothing. I would be amazed if he sees jail time or even a significant fine.  The impact was in the unprecedented charges, not in the sentence.

 

I suspect part of the reason my season pass price went up so significantly was because of liability concerns from the patroller death, but that won't really impact daily operations.

 

The biggest implication here is that the ski area has a extremely ambitious expansion plan on the table that requires additional SUP acreage. As it turns out, that acreage is in two National Forests- the FS boundary runs along the divide.

 

Before all of this, it was hard for me to be optimistic about the expansion because they involved this:

 

 

1600 vertical feet of nastiness that would instantly elevate WC into the "best terrain in Colorado" discussion, with the most snow dumped on it to boot.

 

But, the same FS that just slapped criminal charges on the owner would have to approve that, and Wolf Creek is becoming a mountain with a not great record of keeping their patrollers safe, which I would think would enter into the discussion when you talk of adding terrain that would be another order of magnitude more difficult to keep safe.

 

In my eyes, getting something like this approved just became an outside chance, but all of that really hinges on why the FS decided to charge him, which is not at all clear.

post #64 of 78
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by tball View Post
 

@anachronism regarding the question above, remind us if you would... is Wolf Creek is on Forest Service land?  What about the proposed expansion?  That obviously makes a huge difference in how difficult they can make life for the owner/ski area.

 

Most of Wolf Creek is on Rio Grande National Forest.

 

However, the ski area has proposed expanding into the San Juan National Forest (down the road- the MDP containing this wasn't accepted because the San Juan National Forest basically hasn't figured out how to manage the ski area- I don't know if any other ski area has spanned two FS boundaries before...).

 

I think Wolf Creek owns only a small portion of their base area. The rest is on NF land.

 

As a further wrinkle, Red McCombs owns most of the Alberta Park area where the lower terminal of the Alberta lift lies.  He still wants to create a base village down there that would encompass the area around the chairlifts down there, including condos, lodging, etc. The ski area is not terribly huge fans of him, either.

 

This is the land that Red currently owns. As you can see, a lot of it runs well into the existing ski area, but it has a permanent recreation easement.

 

Most of the local population is firmly against this idea, as they have been for 30 years.

 

So... Yeah, in answer to your question, I think IF the FS is really in as bad a mood as they seem, their key point of leverage would be shutting down further expansion.

post #65 of 78

Well, never mind then.

 

 

 

http://www.denverpost.com/business/ci_26593632/cdot-bids-miss-mark-berthoud-pass-remote-avalanche

 

CDOT bids miss mark for Berthoud Pass remote avalanche control system

By Jason Blevins
The Denver Post
POSTED:   09/24/2014 12:01:00 AM MDTADD A COMMENT

 

 
A Gazex avalanche exploder sits above the ski areas of Rosa Khutor near Sochi, Russia, during the Winter Olympics in February.
A Gazex avalanche exploder sits above the ski areas of Rosa Khutor near Sochi, Russia, during the Winter Olympics in February. (Jason Blevins, Denver Post file)

There won't be any remote-controlled avalanche mitigation on Berthoud Pass this winter.

After two years of public vetting and study, the Colorado Department of Transportation in April began advertising for companies to install a Gazex remote avalanche-control system in a slide-prone gully that threatens U.S. 40 on the east side of Berthoud Pass. The system was to be the state's first try at automated avalanche control .

But no bids met the department's $2 million budget.

"Our plan is to re-advertise the project before year's end so we can have someone under contract by spring — and installed next summer," said Peter Kozinski, CDOT's engineer in charge of the project.

CDOT typically drops explosives from a helicopter or fires 105mm Howitzer shells to ease avalanche danger in the notorious Stanley slide path, which crosses U.S. 40 twice on Berthoud Pass.

The Gazex system would allow highway managers to trigger propane-fueled blasts of compressed air into avalanche paths remotely and regularly, reducing the threat of catastrophic, road-burying slides. CDOT wants five Gazex exploders in the Stanley slide path.

The Gazex project on Berthoud Pass is planned as a pilot that could lead to more system installations across the state. Highway departments in Wyoming, Utah and California use Gazex exploders above mountain highways, and the systems are popular in Canada and Europe. There are about 2,000 of the French-made Gazex systems in use around the world.

 
post #66 of 78
Thread Starter 

Huh.

 

I would think 1.5 million would be plenty to pour some concrete footings and run power. From the Buy American waiver, I read that the actual Gazex system was quoted at 450k...

post #67 of 78

Late to the party on this and I don't want to get in too deep but about your experience of being below the "Boomer" .

 

Gaz-ex isn't designed to trigger large full depth avalanches. It is designed to be easily, repeatedly fired and in doing so release numerous small avalanches so they don't build up to large and dangerous avalanches. That is the principal behind nearly all ski area avalanche mitigation.

 

Now I am not saying it is good practice to fire any type of explosive device on a snow covered mountainside above people, I am saying there may be more to it than what you experienced.

 

WC has always had an "interesting" avalanche control program in part because of the General Manager. From what I had heard he is very involved.

 

In my times ski patrolling I had the chance to take part in missions like the ones in this thread.

 

Looking back on them, they were enormous amounts of fun. They also probably weren't the most safe or well thought out.

 

Lots of ski patrols will be watching where this goes.

post #68 of 78
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by bunion View Post
 

Late to the party on this and I don't want to get in too deep but about your experience of being below the "Boomer" .

 

Gaz-ex isn't designed to trigger large full depth avalanches. It is designed to be easily, repeatedly fired and in doing so release numerous small avalanches so they don't build up to large and dangerous avalanches. That is the principal behind nearly all ski area avalanche mitigation.

 

Now I am not saying it is good practice to fire any type of explosive device on a snow covered mountainside above people, I am saying there may be more to it than what you experienced.

 

WC has always had an "interesting" avalanche control program in part because of the General Manager. From what I had heard he is very involved.

 

In my times ski patrolling I had the chance to take part in missions like the ones in this thread.

 

Looking back on them, they were enormous amounts of fun. They also probably weren't the most safe or well thought out.

 

Lots of ski patrols will be watching where this goes.

 

This is part of the reason I'm not at the point of losing my shit over the experience- they set them off enough that triggering a climax slide would be really unlikely. The experience was unsettling. I am very surprised that they opened the terrain while still lighting off the Gazex system, but that doesn't automatically mean things were unsafe, negligent, etc.

 

I suspect the owner/general manager has a lot to do with the mentality of the patrol there, and I hope the events of the last few years have a sobering effect in that regard.  I'm just a random guy that like skiing there, and it bums me out. I can't imagine being on patrol there after what has happened.

post #69 of 78

Well, now that the family is questioning the activity that day, Jeff's concerns can be aired freely. How this plays out is anyone's guess I suppose. Is it coincidental that the FS made its decision in favor of the base area expansion after this incident, only they will know for sure.

 

What is certain is that Colin will be missed and that his death is tragic, as are all accidents that take the lives of good, young people. It seems he knew there was trouble, but too late to escape.

 

Santa Fe New Mexican Article HERE

post #70 of 78
Thread Starter 
I still don't know what to make of this story. It is still really hard for me to believe Pitcher would do this without telling somebody at the FS. It has wide reaching consequences for his business and what the future of that business looks like.

I don't understand why they were out there that day. Given that they have been doing this off and on for many years, it seems almost like puttering around and evaluating the snowpack is a hobby rather than a real business plan. I don't think it was an excuse to throw bombs and free-ski, but why pick up this idea now?

The bottom line for me is that the ski area's recent history has multiple patrol deaths in really questionable circumstances. The culture needs to change.
post #71 of 78
Thread Starter 

Pitcher accepted a plea deal and plead down to

 

Quote:
 a single charge of conducting search-and-rescue training on public land without a permit.

 

... which if you believe the reporting in both the Denver Post and the Herald, is the NEW explanation for why they were out there- SAR training instead of explosive-assisted snow stability testing.

 

Compare that to the explanation given at the time of the death.

 

Quote:
 “At one time, Wolf Creek had applied for helicopter skiing permits in different areas,” ski area owner Rosanne Pitcher said. “We try to stay in areas where the good snow is, and Conejos Peak is one of those. They were just kind of checking it out for the day.”

 

I think this is sloppy reporting more than anything (mistaking the plea-deal charge as a description of what they were doing out there), but there is a LOT of unanswered questions about what these little jaunts into the wilderness were really about, and with no more trial, who knows if it will ever be clear.  Then again, it sounds like the family could be preparing for a lawsuit.

post #72 of 78

Surely it's a bit of everything - as a total outsider I'd guess at a make up something like this.

 

It was a perk of the job to go on periodic assisted jollies outside the ski area. I'd assume all participants were skilled and educated enough to know possible implications.

The official line attached to them was that they were training and evaluation.

Probably somewhere in the back of the owner's mind was a decision at some point and effort about getting that terrain into the ski area or developing an alternate model - cat or heli

Shit happened

Jolly aspect comes to the fore as clearly non essential activity.

post #73 of 78
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mom View Post
 

Well, now that the family is questioning the activity that day, Jeff's concerns can be aired freely. How this plays out is anyone's guess I suppose. Is it coincidental that the FS made its decision in favor of the base area expansion after this incident, only they will know for sure.

 

What is certain is that Colin will be missed and that his death is tragic, as are all accidents that take the lives of good, young people. It seems he knew there was trouble, but too late to escape.

 

Santa Fe New Mexican Article HERE


That is a really good article. 

post #74 of 78

Kim Kircher shared an article on this topic.  Its interesting to see this story continuing to get traction especially from someone who is a ski patroller as well as spouse of a resort owner.  

Colin Sutton Avalanche Fatality: A Father Seeks Justice

post #75 of 78
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Trekchick View Post
 

Kim Kircher shared an article on this topic.  Its interesting to see this story continuing to get traction especially from someone who is a ski patroller as well as spouse of a resort owner.

Colin Sutton Avalanche Fatality: A Father Seeks Justice

 

This is the best article I have read on the subject, and the first to actually report anything from the sentencing- probably our best opportunity to get any answers regarding what the hell happened here.

 

And it still seems clear as mud, with the DA pleading leniency and calling it a petty offense, Pitcher's attorney claiming that he had verbal approval (from a forest service guy that won't go on the record, apparently), and it still remaining unclear to what degree this is a political squabble lumped on top of a tragedy.

 

Meanwhile we hear competing explanations for why they were out there in the first place even in the article- was it SAR training or snowpack evaluation for a heli-ski operation? Certainly, it could be both, but when you are fighting the allegations/perception that this was really about having freewheeling heli-served fun in a wilderness area (which it can be IN ADDITION to the above) you would think the parties involved would be on message as to the official explanation of the outings.

 

I think the article does a great job of pointing out that nobody likes the situation, and nobody wins.

post #76 of 78

This is a tragic story on so many levels. I've been following it like a deer in the headlights. I just can't look away. I feel for all of the parties involved. Jonathan Thompson's article does an excellent job of parsing out the different sides. I'm not sure we'll ever know what really happened that day. Nor will we ever know exactly why they were there. But as any patroller knows, these are the kinds of experiences we live for in our job. Avalanche control, snow science, skiing powder--who wouldn't want to do that? 

post #77 of 78
Is there a direct link to the article mentioned on the link above? I keep getting a 404 for the article in Pique.
post #78 of 78
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by sibhusky View Post

Is there a direct link to the article mentioned on the link above? I keep getting a 404 for the article in Pique.

 

 

http://www.hcn.org/articles/ski-patrol-death

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EpicSki › The Barking Bear Forums › On the Snow (Skiing Forums) › General Skiing Discussion › Whoa. Owner of Wolf Creek faces criminal charges for explosive use in the backcountry.