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Truitt Hunter: Learn more about skier who died at Keystone in lethal season for resorts

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Update: As we've stressed in our coverage of skiing deaths at Colorado resorts during what may now be tied for the most lethal season on record (more on that below), the victims are far more than statistics. This message comes through loud and clear in the online obituary for Truitt Hunter, a 23-year-old from Castle Rock who passed away at Keystone on Friday. In advance of his memorial service, slated for tomorrow, his loved one posted photos and memories of a young man gone much too soon. See samples below.

Hunter was born in Farmington, New Mexico, the day after Christmas in 1988 to Robbie Jean and Jimmie Dale Hunter, and even as we speak, the guest book on the page is filling up with heartfelt comments like these:

Words cannot tell you how sad we were to hear about Truitt. Our thoughts and prayers are with you all.

Truitt will always be remembered in our hearts. He was such a special young man. I loved his smile and his hugs!!

I have known Truitt since elementary school and have always felt incredibly blessed to have his friendship and support. Truitt saved me many days just with that warm smile and silly chuckle of his. I will always remember him this way, as the light that he always was in my life!

Our best memories of Truitt are him flying through the camp ground on his bike with his dog and throwing the frisbee to his dog. His smile was amazing!!

Truitt -- We worked together at Outback and you always made me smile. The countless hours we spent in the to-go room laughing and joking around were some of the best times ever! You are a beautiful soul.

In addition, the site features sixty family photos of Hunter, ranging from some of the first shots of him....

...to adorable images from his youth.... ...to pics from his teen years.... ...to more recent looks.... The service is scheduled to take place at First United Methodist Church of Castle Rock at 11 a.m. Our condolences.

By the way, there's a new report that a 71-year-old skier died from injuries sustained at Loveland Ski Area over the weekend. That would bring the number of casualties this season to seventeen, tying the previous high mark from 2007-2008. We've got calls in to get more details with an eye toward publishing a separate post. (Update: Get more information in our March 15 post "Joseph Shematek's death means 2012 Colorado ski season tied for most lethal ever.") Look below to read our earlier coverage.

Original item, 6:52 a.m. March 12: This winter, every week seems to bring more skiing-related tragedy. That was the case again on Friday, when Truitt Hunter, 23, died on the slopes of Keystone.

By our count, his terrible accident means Colorado is within one of the all-time mark for most resort deaths in a single ski season.

According to the Summit County coroner's office, Hunter, a 23-year-old from Castle Rock, was skiing on Spring Dipper, an intermediate run, when he appears to have caught an edge at about 1 p.m. Friday afternoon. As a result, he swerved off the trail and hit a tree, causing multiple skull fractures. He was not wearing a helmet. Flight for Life responded, but the crew's efforts were unsuccessful. He was declared dead a few minutes before 2 p.m.

Hunter's Facebook page, which features the artwork seen here in lieu of a profile pic, lists him as having studied at Douglas County High School and the University of Northern Colorado.

His wall doesn't feature a great many posts, but one he shared in September of last year no doubt resonates with his friends. It reads: "The twist and turns of the world and life will continue to happen, regardless of ones' plans, hopes, and dreams. But i do believe it is faith, trust, and respect that will help us [persevere] through the toughest of times, and accomplish the impossible."

As for photos, the most telling one involves an accident circa 2009. It appears under the heading "Bad Day!!!"

"Broke ankle and surgery," he notes -- and in one comment, he exclaims, "I'm missing ski season now arrrggggg!!!! ehhh!!!! SUCK!"

Hunter's death follows that of Patrick Sievert, a Wisconsin resident who recently passed away at Copper Mountain. As we explain in our post about him (part of the collected reporting on view below), our William Breathes has been tracking resort deaths this season. Using his numbers, Hunter's is the sixteenth of the season -- only one shy of the top mark, set in 2007-2008. See more details below.

Published March 9, 6:53 a.m.: 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.

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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