Collin Zak, a 23-year-old U.S. Armed Forces member from Ohio, appears to be the first person to die at a Colorado ski area during the 2017-2018 ski season. He suffered a fatal crash while snowboarding at Monarch, a resort in Chaffee County, on Saturday, December 2.
Zak's death follows an especially deadly 2016-17 ski season, when fourteen people died at Colorado ski resorts, including eight at Breckenridge alone. As a point of reference, nine deaths took place at ski areas in the state during the 2015-16 season.
In addition, Zak's passing comes nearly three weeks prior to the first casualty during the previous season. Longmont's Kevin Pitts died at Breck on December 19, 2016.
Prior to Zak's death, no reports about previous ski-area deaths have surfaced this season — and that's an important distinction to make. As we've noted in our previous coverage of Colorado ski area deaths, state and/or federal agencies don't officially gather information about resort casualties. That 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. For example, Westword was the first news agency in Colorado to report that Jim Bell, a firefighter from Kansas, died after a ski accident at Crested Butte in February 2016 — and a Colorado Ski Country representative said he was unaware of Bell's identity when we contacted the group for a post the following April 18.
As for the latest incident, it took place on Mirage, a run off Monarch's Panorama lift that's rated black diamond — a designation that recommends it for advanced skiers (as opposed to double black diamond, for experts). Here's a video of the run:
According to the Chaffee County Sheriff's Office, the Monarch Ski Patrol received a call about an unresponsive male who had collided with a tree at 11:50 a.m. on the 2nd.
Chaffee County EMS and sheriff's office reps also rushed to the scene, and by the time they arrived, ski patrol members were performing CPR on Zak, who had been wearing a helmet at the time of the accident.
Unfortunately, he didn't respond to the treatment and was pronounced dead at the scene.
On December 3rd, the CCSO identified Zak — and over the weekend, tributes began popping up on social media.
Among the most poignant was shared by Collin's uncle.
"With a heavy heart, I ask for your prayers for my nephew, Sgt. Collin Zak, and his parents Jenn and Clay," he wrote on Facebook in text that accompanied the photo seen directly above. "Just enjoying a day off, went snowboarding, then all went bad."
He added this line: "And yet not a sparrow falls from the skies unless it is by the hand of God."
Funeral arrangements are pending.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.