Wolf Creek ski patrol director killed by in-bounds avalanche

Wolf Creek Ski Area's ski patrol director was killed in an in-bounds avalanche the morning of Nov. 22, becoming the first avalanche fatality of a very young ski season. Following the incident, the area was closed for the day.
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Wolf Creek’s ski patrol director was caught and killed by an in-bounds avalanche on Nov. 22 at 7:45 a.m. “while working to protect others,” according to a press release from the Pagosa Springs, Colo, ski area.

Wolf Creek Ski Area did not publish the victim’s name, but the ski area’s Facebook page is filled with condolences for ski patrol director, Scott Kay.

The area, which has been open since Oct. 30, closed for the day and refunded tickets following the accident.

“Wolf Creek’s management and all its employees wish to express our deepest regrets at this loss of a wonderful man and close friend,” the release stated. “Our sympathy and condolences go out to his wife and two children.”

Renowned for its powder and often nation-leading snowfall totals, as of the morning of Nov. 22, Wolf Creek had already received 53 inches of snow this season, and 18 inches in the previous 48 hours.

The National Weather Service had issued both a blizzard watch and an avalanche watch for the region, stating, “High winds and heavy snow have created dangerous avalanche conditions. Both natural and human-triggered avalanches are likely.”

Two skiers, one snowboarder and one dog have been caught in three separate avalanches in Colorado already this season, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. But those incidents only resulted in one injury, and all three took place in the backcountry.

Once extremely rare, some snow safety experts worry that innovations in powder skis and the expansion of sidecountry ski terrain will result in an increase in in-bounds avalanche fatalities.

Only three in-bounds avalanche fatalities were recorded over the entire 10-year period from 1980 to 1990, and there was just one in-bounds avy death between 1990 and 1999. But there were four separate in-bounds avalanche fatalities during the 2008/2009 ski season, including one at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, one at Snowbird and two at Squaw Valley.

“When you look at in-area fatalities as a percentage of avalanche deaths, the number is quite low, but there seems to be a new trend,” avalanche expert Dale Atkins, who was consulted on the issue by the National Ski Areas Association, said in 2009 regarding those fatalities. “For 20 years, from 1980, in-area deaths were only 1 percent of U.S. avalanche deaths. However, this decade the deaths have more doubled to 2.3 percent.”

Wolf Creek was scheduled to reopen on Nov. 23, 2010 at 8:30 a.m.

--Peter Kray

On Oct. 6, 2010, veteran journalist Peter Kray joined the SNEWS team and is now editor of the new SNEWS WinterSports channel. We trust you are enjoying the full offering of WinterSports news. Be sure to email your friends and let them know the best WinterSports news has arrived -- just in time for the start of the winter season. Got WinterSports news? Send your WinterSports news to Kray at pkray@snewsnet.com. Subscribers can also post WinterSports news releases directly to the SNEWS website. Email us at snewsbox@snewsnet.com to learn about posting your own news releases, or for any other questions or comments. We love to hear from our readers!

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