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Second skier death this week brings season total to eleven: On track for a record?

Update: For the second time in less than a week, a skier has been killed while schussing the slopes at Keystone.

The death brings the total skier deaths this year in Colorado to eleven, just six shy of a macabre record set in 2008.

The Denver Post is reporting that 72-year-old Connecticut resident William Emberton was found dead on the black diamond Geronimo run off of Keystone's North Peak. Though he was reportedly wearing a helmet, the coroner's office says Emberton died from a broken neck and brain injuries. We've got calls into the coroner's office and will update the post with any more information.

Also, as noted in the comments, authorities have confirmed that Winter Park skier Christopher Norris was not on a closed trail at the time he died. The original story has been corrected with updated information.

Update, 1:25 p.m., February 8: Yesterday, we reported about the rash of skier deaths in Colorado this year -- nine of them by our count.

But after the post went live, we learned about yet another death yesterday, bringing the total to ten.

According to the Vail Daily, a 37-year-old Missouri man died yesterday after what the Eagle County Sheriff's Office is calling a "ski incident" at Vail. The man, who was wearing a helmet at the time, was found on the front-side black run called Berries; it's a relatively fast rolling stretch that filters down to the Avanti Express Lift. Calls left with Eagle County Sheriff's department were not immediately returned. We'll update this post if and when they get back to us. Look below for our previous coverage.

Original item, 3:59 p.m. February 7: On Saturday, 58-year-old Georgia resident Odo Lessacher collided with a tree in the glades between Keystone's Alamo and Prospector runs.

Lessacher is the third person to die from injuries at Keystone and the ninth skier to die in Colorado this season by our count. Although the number of skiers dying on the mountain this year seems staggeringly high, officials with Colorado Ski Country USA -- which represents 22 ski areas in the state -- say that it's nothing out of the ordinary. On average, 34 skiers die from injuries suffered on-mountain nationally. Colorado has somewhere around a dozen deaths each year, with the winter of 2007-2008 being the worst, with seventeen deaths recorded.

So far this year, the following skiers and snowboarders have died on the mountain:

11/16 -- Evan Massini, twenty, a CU student died at Breck.

11/19 -- Prominent Vail doctor Charles Tuft, 62, was killed when he lost control on Gitalong Road, a beginner trail at Vail, and veered into an embankment where he suffered severe trauma.

1/1 -- Sean Jared Bender, 38, hit a tree on the Prospector run at Keystone. Though he was wearing a helmet, Bender died of blunt-force trauma to his chest.

1/19 -- Sydney Elizabeth Owens died on January 19 at Silverton Mountain, an expert-only ski area that requires skiers and riders to wear avalanche beacons and carry snow probes and shovels. Owens allegedly dropped a ski while on Riff's Run and then slid some 1,500 feet, dying of blunt trauma from the fall.

1/20 -- Austin resident Donald Hinckley died after falling head-first on a snow-covered stump at Copper Mountain, suffering neck trauma and a heart attack.

1/25 -- Vesselin Vlassev, a 54-year-old from Westminster, was found dead on Jacques' at Keystone without a helmet.

Two other deaths have occurred at resorts, both from in-bound avalanches and both on the same day. On January 22, Christopher Norris, 28, died in a slide on an open trail at Winter Park. Around the same time, a thirteen-year-old Eagle boy was killed when he and his friends were caught in a slide in a closed section of Vail's back bowls.

However, the Colorado Ski Association says deaths out-of-bounds or on closed trails do not count towards deaths at resorts.

Avalanches have claimed the lives of two others in Colorado this season. On January 18, a backcountry slide in Pitkin County took the life of 43-year-old Aspen skier Keith Ames -- an excellent skier by all accounts. And on January 21, Tyler Lundstedt, 24, was killed when he and his brother were caught in a backcountry slide while snowmobiling near Steamboat.

Jennifer Rudolph, spokeswoman for Ski Country USA, agrees that the last month or so has seen a concentrated number of skier deaths. But she says that, while tragic, the number isn't above average for Colorado ski areas, nor is there a deadly trend developing.

And though early season snow totals have been abysmally low, Rudolf contends that the patchy conditions around resorts aren't necessarily to blame. "[The deaths] are unfortunate, but they are also isolated," she maintains. "There's no specific cause or trend or rhyme or reason. Skiing is inherently risky, and skiers and snowboarders need to be responsible for their own safety."

Even so, Dave Byrd, spokesman for the National Ski Areas Association, admits that it has been an unusual snow year and that the infrequent storms have dangerously layered the snow in the backcountry.

"I can't stress enough that if you're going to ski or venture into the backcountry to check with forest and ski patrol first," he says. "Make sure you ski with a partner and have the right equipment."

Please. Listen to the man. Remember, this isn't Disneyland out there -- it's Mother Nature, and she can be a mean bitch. Don't go into the backcountry without a shovel, probe and beacon, even in places that seem safe and well-traveled, like Loveland Pass and Berthoud Pass. Riders are also increasingly relying on new technology, like the Backcountry Access Float 30 air bag that saved pro snowboarder Meesh Hytner from a backcountry slide near Montezuma on January 25. Check out the scary vid of her encounter below -- and be safe out there, friends:

More from our News archive: "Charles Tuft, R.I.P.: Emergency doctor dies on Vail Mountain's opening day."


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