According to the first installment in a groundbreaking series, at least 137 people have died skiing at Colorado resorts over the past decade. The number doesn't include 25 or more on-mountain deaths from heart attacks and other cardiac issues related to high altitudes.
This information is contained in "Whiteout," part one of a three-part investigation being published by the Summit Daily. Reporter Kevin Fixler, who (disclosure) also interviewed yours truly for the series, has spent months researching fatalities at Colorado ski resorts — a challenging subject because of what one of Fixler's sources, ski instructor Randy White, accurately refers to as a "culture of concealment."
As we've noted in our own coverage of Colorado ski resort deaths, no state or federal agency officially tracks 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, in the apparent hope of minimizing negative publicity that inevitably accompanies such accidents. The approach inevitably leads to some deaths being effectively concealed from the general public. For example, most news agencies, including Westword, have reported that nineteen people died skiing or snowboarding at Colorado resorts during the 2011-2012 season, the deadliest of the past decade. However, Fixler, who contacted coroners all over the state for his reports, has discovered that at least 22 people actually died skiing at Colorado resorts that season.
Here are the annual skiing-death totals from Colorado resorts over the past ten years, as compiled by the Summit Daily:
2016-2017 (to date): 13
This season, as noted above, thirteen people have died at Colorado ski resorts — most recently Logan Goodwin, a twelve-year-old from Hermosa Beach, California, who passed away at Children's Hospital in Aurora on Sunday, April 9, following an injury the previous day at Breckenridge. Goodwin was the fifth person to die after a skiing accident at Breckenridge this season and the ninth over the previous two seasons, far and away the most at any Colorado resort during either span.
Westword requested an interview with a Breckenridge representative to discuss the latest tragedy and any efforts to address the startlingly high fatality figures. We received the same statement Breckenridge always releases following such incidents. It reads:
"Breckenridge Ski Resort, Breckenridge Ski Patrol and the entire Vail Resorts family extend our deepest sympathy and support to our guest’s family and friends," said John Buhler, vice president and chief operating officer of Breckenridge Ski Resort.
Breckenridge is the nation's busiest ski area, with nearly 1.7 million annual visits, Fixler reports. Its popularity has led to speculation in some quarters that the sheer volume of skiers on its slopes is partly responsible for the high casualty figures. However, Breckenridge actually ranks second in skier deaths during the past decade, trailing another Summit County resort, Keystone. Here are the Summit Daily's figures for resort deaths by county over the previous ten years:
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1. Keystone: 22
2. Breckenridge: 21
3. Snowmass: 13
4. Copper Mountain: 11
5. Vail Mountain: 7
6. Telluride: 7
7. Wolf Creek: 7
8. Winter Park: 6
9: Beaver Creek: 5
10. Crested Butte: 5
11. Aspen Mountain: 5
12. Eldora: 5
13. Steamboat: 4
14. Arapahoe Basin: 4
15. Aspen Highlands: 4
16. Purgatory: 3
17. Loveland: 2
18. Buttermilk: 2
19. Silverton: 1
20: Granby Ranch: 1
21. Howelsen Hill: 1
The deadliest county by far when it comes to skiing-related fatalities at Colorado resorts is Summit, with 58. That sum is more than twice as large as that of the next closest county, Pitkin, with 24.
"Whiteout" uses skier No. 130 as a symbol of the suspect system for tracking ski-resort fatalities. Colorado Ski Country USA has confirmed the death of this individual during the 2016-2017 season to the Summit Daily (and to Westword), but it won't provide any other information — and despite Fixler's indefatigable digging, he's been unable thus far to discover the victim's identity. That state officials allow a situation like this to go on implies that they are more concerned with cozying up to the ski industry and protecting the local tourism trade than they are with fully informing the public.
The Summit Daily series runs daily through Friday, April 14. Click to read part one.