Matthew Bowers, a 36-year-old from Greenville, Texas, reportedly died on Wednesday after a skiing accident at Crested Butte Mountain Resort. By our count -- one an industry spokeswoman disputes -- he's the eighteenth person to perish on Colorado ski slopes this season, one more than the previous high mark.
At this writing, the Crested Butte Police Department is not releasing the name of the victim or details about the accident that took his life. However, the Gunnison Country Times reports in a digital edition available at the link above that Bowers was on Lower Gallowich, an intermediate trail, when he hit a tree at what witnesses said was a high rate of speed around 10:35 a.m. on Wednesday. Ski patrol members attempted to resuscitate him for nearly an hour, the paper allows, but he never regained signs of life. Gunnison County coroner Frank Vader told the Times the cause of death was "multiple traumatic injuries." Bowers was not wearing a helmet.
In a statement, Eric Reiter, communications manager for Crested Butte Mountain Resort, said, "This is a tragic accident and our thoughts are with the family and friends of the gentleman who passed away."
This news follows word that 71-year-old Windsor resident Joseph Shematek died at St. Anthony's Hospital the day after injuring himself at Loveland Ski Area.
Using numbers generated by William Breathes, who's been tracking ski area fatalities since last month, the deaths of Shematek and Bowers are the seventeenth and eighteenth of the season. The largest number of fatalities during a single season prior to this one was seventeen in 2007-2008.
As noted by the Denver Post, whose count agrees with Breathes's, ski areas and associations don't keep official records of deaths at resorts. Nonetheless, Jennifer Rudolph, communications director for Colorado Ski Country, believes that Bowers's death was the seventeenth of the season, not the eighteenth. She adds that Colorado Ski Country counts eight deaths in 2012 at the 22 resorts that are members of the organization. Ski resorts that aren't members include Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone; there have been multiple deaths at the latter this season, including that of 23-year-old Castle Rock resident Truitt Hunter.
Rudolph stresses that when it comes to deaths at Colorado ski areas, "one is too many." As for why this year has been so deadly, she believes it's "extremely misleading and speculative to try to connect these incidents with any kind of trends or statistics. We can't really reach any conclusions about what happened in one state in one season.
"If you look at the number of accidental skier deaths last year, or in prior seasons, the number fluctuates," she adds. "It can't be traced to snow conditions or helmets. There's no single cause for accidental skier deaths. They happen for random reasons and they're isolated occurrences."
According to Rudolph, "these fatalities are happening, ironically, at a time when these resorts have never been more focused on guest safety. That's always the number one priority of resorts, but it's even more so now."
At the same time, she says that "each skier is ultimately responsible for their own safety. So this is an unfortunate reminder for people to obey the signs at resorts -- closures are there for a reason -- and follow the responsibility code."
Rudolph highlights the following pieces of advice from the code:
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• Always stay in control, and be able to stop or avoid other people or objects.
• People ahead of you have the right of way. It is your responsibility to avoid them.
• You must not stop where you obstruct a trail, or are not visible from above.
• Whenever starting downhill or merging into a trail, look uphill and yield to others.
• Always use devices to help prevent runaway equipment.
• Observe all posted signs and warnings. Keep off closed trails and out of closed areas.
• Prior to using any lift, you must have the knowledge and ability to load, ride and unload safely.
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More from our News archive: "Truitt Hunter: Learn more about skier who died at Keystone in lethal season for resorts."