Jim Bell, a 44-year-old firefighter from Kansas, died following a skiing accident at Crested Butte resort earlier this year. He is one of thirteen people to lose their lives as a result of injuries sustained at a Colorado ski area during the 2016-'17 season, but he was not previously identified locally because of the controversial way in which the state tracks such fatalities.
As we've noted in our previous coverage of Colorado ski area deaths, no state or federal agency officially gathers information about resort casualties. Hence the task is left to the ski areas themselves or industry groups such as Colorado Ski Country USA, which is associated with 22 resorts in the state, or the National Ski Areas Association, a Lakewood-based organization that compiles an annual list of deaths across the country sans names, locations or specific details.
These groups do their best to release the smallest amount of information possible about each episode, which tends to minimize negative publicity that inevitably accompanies such accidents. But this approach can lead to some deaths being effectively concealed from the general public — which is how Bell's death wasn't reported by a Colorado media organization until now.
Five deaths during the 2016-'17 season were associated with the Breckenridge ski area, where another four people died skiing in 2015-2016. They are Kevin Pitts, who died on December 19, 2016; Sean Haberthier, who died on January 13; Ricardo Cohen, who died on February 10; Tess Smith, who died on March 6; and Logan Goodwin, a twelve-year-old who died from injuries sustained at Breck on April 8.
The other victims of ski-area-related fatalities this season are San Antonio mom Kelly Huber, age forty, who fell to her death from Granby Ranch's Quick Draw Express ski lift on December 29, 2016; Alicyn Mitcham, a seventeen-year-old from Colmesneil, Texas, who died after crashing into a tree while skiing at Winter Park Resort on February 15; Andrew Garcia, who died from a snowboarding accident at Buttermilk, an Aspen Skiing Company resort on February 23; Kressyda Ming, a New Mexico mother of five, whose death at Purgatory, in southwestern Colorado not far from Durango, took place on February 25; Tien Tran, a Buckley airman from Hawaii, killed while snowboarding at Eldora on March 7; Michael Black, who succumbed to injuries sustained at Wolf Creek resort on March 21; Cole Barker, who died on March 24 after a Loveland ski area crash; and an eighth person whose death was confirmed by Colorado Ski Country USA spokesperson Chris Linsmayer.
However, Linsmayer would neither reveal the identity of this last individual nor provide any additional information, including time, date or the ski resort involved. Via e-mail, he said that the organization's protocol "is to confirm/provide the number of deaths at CSCUSA ski areas throughout the season. The reason we don’t provide additional details is because we oftentimes do not have them. It isn’t always a clear process because families may not provide any additional details to us or the ski areas after someone has been transported from the ski area."
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When asked to confirm that Bell was the previously unnamed skier who'd died at a Colorado resort this season, Linsmayer replied, "There was an incident at Crested Butte that led to a skier fatality in February. I never knew his identity until you provided it."
Further information is provided by an article published in the Kansas City Star. It reveals that on February 13, Bell suffered a head injury while on a skiing vacation at Crested Butte with his family — his wife, Courtney, and two grade-school-age sons. He was transported to a hospital in Grand Junction but didn't respond to treatment. A GoFundMe page created after his death reveals that he passed away at 2:22 a.m. on February 17, after being on life support for several days.
Bell was a firefighter with the Johnson County, Kansas, fire department, and the GoFundMe page includes numerous photos of him in uniform and posing with colleagues. Its introduction points out that "in the spirit of giving and saving lives, which he made a career of, Jim’s organs were donated and will help many other people." The intro adds: "This account has been established by friends of the family to help provide a bright future for Jim’s boys, who he loved so dearly."
At this writing, the page's $19,000 goal has been exceeded by just over $300. Click for more details.