Ski season deaths: James Lindenblatt's is among two that won't count toward Colorado total

As we reported last week, calculating ski-area deaths in Colorado is tricky, since Colorado Ski Country USA applies a strict criteria to those included in overall figures.

Cases in point: Olathe, Kansas resident Stuart Brownlee and Summit County's James Lindenblatt died while skiing in recent days, but neither meet the CSCUSA standards. Details below.

On Friday, January 11, according to the Summit County coroner's office, Brownlee, 45, suffered what's characterized as a "non-trauma event" while skiing at Copper Mountain -- meaning that he didn't crash into a tree or the like. He was transferred to St. Anthony's Hospital in Lakewood, where he died.

A native of Missouri, Brownlee worked as a water analyst. He leaves behind a son, for whom a trust fund has been established.

To be included in resort death stats, Colorado Ski Country USA requires that an individual must perish on public portions of the ski area. (Aspen ski patrol veteran Patsy Hileman was on Snowmass property but just outside such a zone when she died in late December, so her case is excluded.) But even though Brownlee was in-bounds, the fact that he appears to have passed away in a manner the coroner calls "consistent with natural circumstances," CSCUSA spokeswoman Jennifer Rudolph says his passing won't be added, either.

The death statistics are meant to convey the overall risks of skiing at a resort, Rudolph explains, and because an accident doesn't appear to have played a role in his death, including him would create a false impression.

Why is Lindenblatt's death being left out? Because he wasn't at a ski area. Rather, the longtime Summit County employee and well-known adventurer (he was featured in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel's Outdoor Junkie blog as recently as December 26) died in an avalanche south of Marble, in an area beloved by backcountry skiers.

Continue for more details about the accident that took James Lindenblatt's life, including photos of the area where the avalanche took place. Here's the account of what happened, from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center:

The avalanche happened in the Raspberry Creek drainage which is part of the Raggeds Wilderness area. Four backcountry skiers were descending steep westerly aspect terrain off the Marble Peak Ridge Sunday afternoon. The fourth skier triggered a soft slab and was buried and killed in the resulting slab avalanche.
The CAIC includes two photos of the area. The first depicts the avalanche on the west and northwest aspects of Marble Peak Ridge:

The second shows what's called a "deeper persistent slab triggered by skier. Storm slab [at the top of the photo] and to the right was triggered first, then stepped down to the persistent slab." Lindenblatt reportedly was wearing an avalanche beacon. Nevertheless, he died before he could be rescued from the slide.

The CAIC notes that Lindenblatt's death was the second due to an avalanche this season, Hileman's being the first. Meanwhile, there have been two official deaths at ski resorts: Tristan Bartlett, thirteen, who died at Copper Mountain on January 4, and Doae Oh, twenty, killed in a January 9 accident at Keystone. Both hit trees; neither were wearing helmets.

In all, however, five people have died skiing in Colorado thus far this season. Our condolences.

More from our News archive: "Ski area death of Patsy Hileman shouldn't count toward resort fatalities, industry group says."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts