Editor's note: The skier who died at Keystone on February 25 has been identified. Learn more by reading "Leon Christopher, College Ski Champ, ID'd as Skier Who Died at Keystone." Continue for our previous coverage.
Original post: On the afternoon of Sunday, February 25, a skier died at Keystone, a short time before 47-year-old Gabriel Wright was killed while snowboarding in the backcountry not far from his home in Telluride. The Keystone death is the second this season at the resort, following the fatal accident that took the life of Nathan Enright in December. And the ski area has also been at the center of two other major stories recently shared in this space, involving a controversial negligence ruling and an organ-and-tissue-donation failure after the passing of Jason Taylor, who was killed at Keystone two years ago.
At this writing, the Summit County Sheriff's Office has shared few details about the latest tragedy.
At 12:50 p.m. on the 25th, the SCSO reveals, local police were contacted about a skier who had collided with a tree. The office's release makes no mention of the specific run.
CPR was said to be in progress at the time of the call.
Shortly thereafter, the Keystone Ski Patrol transported the skier to Saint Anthony Keystone Medical Clinic, where he was pronounced dead.
No other information about the skier will be released until after next of kin is notified.
Mere hours later, the San Miguel County Sheriff's Office was dispatched to Telluride's Bear Creek, where a man subsequently ID'd as Wright was in dire condition.
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Wright and two companions had been cutting through the area below Nellie Mine. However, the SMCSO notes that what happened to Wright wasn't witnessed by the others.
Both of the boarders with Wright were CPR-certified, but they were unable to reach him for approximately half an hour. At that time, he didn't have a pulse, and despite their efforts, they were unable to revive him.
In the announcement about Wright, San Miguel County Sheriff Bill Masters offered a statement about the area. "I would be remiss if I didn’t remind people of the dangers of venturing into the backcountry," he's quoted as saying. "We have this great white shark out there that’s a serious threat, and it’s called Bear Creek."
Like the February 6 death of Vail ski instructor Sam Failla, Wright's passing won't count toward the casualty total at Colorado ski areas, since neither man was in-bounds at a resort when they perished.
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That means Sunday's death at Keystone is the third that we know about during the 2017-2018 season. Collin Zak, a 23-year-old Ohioan and member of the U.S. Armed Forces, died snowboarding at Monarch on December 2. Nathan Enright, a 21-year-old who'd recently moved to Larimer County from Libertyville, Illinois, to attend college, was severely injured at Keystone that same day and removed from life support on December 5, three days before the incident was made public.
As we've reported, Keystone didn't suffer a skiing casualty during the 2016-2017 season. Enright was the first person to die at Keystone since Boulder artist Jason Taylor in January 2016, during the 2015-2016 season. What happened after Taylor's accident is recounted in "Grief Over Skiing Death Compounded by Organ, Tissue Donation Failure," published earlier this month.
But according to the Summit Daily News, which produced an impressive series about skiing deaths in April 2017, the destination has seen more than its share of tragedy. The paper, which documented 137 deaths at Colorado ski areas over the previous decade, listed 22 deaths at Keystone, including that of ABC reporter John McWethy, who died there in 2008. Westword contributor Teague Bohlen included McWethy in his list of the ten Colorado ski accidents that made national headlines last year.
The deaths of Enright and the latest victim bring that sum to 24. But the current total of three in-bounds skiing casualties is considerably lower than the fourteen who died at Colorado resorts during the 2016-2017 season. And Dave Byrd, director of risk and regulatory affairs for the Colorado-based National Ski Areas Association, recently stressed to us that the pastime is less risky than many people realize. In his words, "I think there's a misperception out there about how dangerous the sport of skiing is. The fatalities are low compared to the number and volume of skiers we have nationwide, and we try to place that into context. For example, people are surprised when they find out that fewer people die skiing than die by lightning."