Patrick Sievert latest to die on Colorado ski slopes: Record setting pace?

Wisconsin's Patrick Sievert died yesterday at Copper Mountain, due to what the Summit County coroner's office cites as skull fractures; he was reportedly wearing a helmet. The tragedy was felt keenly at Sievert's high school, where he was a popular student athlete, and adds to a growing list of deaths at Colorado resorts -- fifteen this season, by our count.

According to the coroner's office, Sievert, eighteen, and his family, who arrived in Colorado for a vacation four days earlier, had been skiing on Andy's Encore, an intermediate run, around 9 a.m. yesterday morning when he veered off the trail and struck a valve shed used for snowmaking. Members of Copper's ski patrol arrived on the scene shortly thereafter, but their lifesaving efforts failed. Sievert was pronounced dead at 10:37 a.m.

Shortly thereafter, word of Sievert's death filtered back to Arrowhead High School, located in the Milwaukee area. Students received the news with shock, and no wonder: As reported by Fox6 in Milwaukee, another student-athlete, J.T. Hilligoss, recently died as well; Hilligoss passed away in his sleep of a heart ailment.

This reaction demonstrates clearly that skiers who die in Colorado aren't just statistics -- but the numbers do indeed tell a distressing story. As our William Breathes has reported, twelve people on average perish on the slopes of resorts here each season, with seventeen deaths during 2007-2008 setting an unpleasant record. Based on Breathes's tracking, Sievert is the fifteenth person to pass away this season, and there's plenty of skiing still to be done before the annual melt-off.

Be careful out there.

Look below to see a Fox6 video about Sievert, followed by Breathes's previous coverage.

Note: The original version of this post included a screen capture of an image from the Fox6 report a commenter says didn't feature Sievert. We've substituted a photo from his Facebook page.

Update, 8:44 a.m. February 28: Sadly, the number of ski deaths in Colorado this season has grown again. On Sunday, 24-year-old Joshua Allen of Tampa, Florida, was found in the trees of the Elk Run underneath the Outback lift at Keystone and airlifted to Summit Medical Center, where he later died.

Though he was wearing a helmet, Allen died of massive facial injuries and brain trauma. Allen is the fourteenth skier killed at a resort this year.

Our condolences to Allen's friends and family.

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Original item, February 20: On average, Colorado sees about a dozen deaths each year on the ski slopes. But this year has been particularly rough, with an average of about a death a week. At this rate, over the next two months skiers and riders are on pace to catch and surpass the record of seventeen deaths set during the 2007-2008 season.

On Sunday, fifteen-year-old Massachusetts resident Hanna Rudolph died after colliding with a tree on the black-diamond CDL run at Copper Mountain, becoming the twelfth skier death at a Colorado resort this year. The Summit County Coroner's office did not have any other information on the girl's death.

Despite the unusually high number of deaths, industry officials contend that this is no trend. As Jennifer Rudolph, spokeswoman for Ski Country USA, told us for our February 7 post on ski deaths, they "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."

Two other skiers were killed this week in avalanches in the backcountry, bringing the total avalanche deaths in the state to six -- two of which occurred in-bounds at ski areas.

Though his name has not been released, a Keystone resort ski patroller originally from New Zealand was killed last Thursday in a slide near Wolf Creek Pass. According to the Summit Daily News, the patroller was caught with three other skiers who all managed to escape without major injury.

And last Monday, Telluride local Nathaneal Soules was killed while skiing in the side-country terrain known as Little Bear Creak that is accessed by a gate at the top of Telluride's chair 9. According to the Telluride Daily Planet, Soules, who was regarded as an expert-level skier, was wearing proper avalanche safety equipment, including a BCA airbag like the one shown in the video below. Two other skiers found Soules, who was riding alone, buried under four feet of snow.

Avalanche experts have been warning for weeks about unstable snowpack in the backcountry, and the Denver Post ran a detailed article this past weekend on the unpredictable conditions.

John Snook, forecaster with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center in Boulder, says there are definitely issues to be concerned with right now in the backcountry. CAIC monitors avalanche conditions in ten zones around the state, updating its website every morning. Currently, Snook says, anything steeper than thirty degrees is at risk.

Though it isn't CAIC's job to tell people what to do, Snook stresses that there's a big risk for slides right now. He urges riders to ski with partners, travel one at a time across suspect terrain, and always carry proper equipment, including a beacon, shovel and probe.

Listen to the man. He's trying to keep your ass alive and out of things like this:

(Video shot on Feb. 17th at Red Mountain Pass, Colorado)

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More from our News archive: "Justin Martinez, featured in our Life Skills story, dies; school could go next" and "Medical marijuana: Seed sales 'gray area' with the state."

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