Wolf Creek, CO Fined $14,000 for Avalanche Death of Ski Patroller & 5 Criminal Charges Filed Against Owner

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Wolf Creek, CO
Wolf Creek, CO

Wolf Creek Ski Area, CO has been fined $14,000 by Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for the death of on-duty ski patroller, Colin Sutton.  That on-duty ski patroller died in an avalanche in March 2014 while studying snowpack outside the ski area’s boundary.  OSHA claims that Wolf Creek did not have adequate communication with patrol headquarters while outside the area boundary.

Wolf Creek trail map
Wolf Creek trail map

The US Forest Service has filed 5 criminal charges against Wolf Creek’s owner, Davey Pitcher, in relation to Colin Sutton’s avalanche death.  The forest service states that Wolf Creek patrollers were not permitted to work out of bounds and that they were illegally using explosives for avalanche work when not needed.  Davey Pitcher has pleaded not guilty to all 5 charges.  His trail will begin in December.

Wolf Creek powder.  photo:  onthesnow.com
Wolf Creek powder. photo: onthesnow.com

This is not the first time OSHA has given Wolf Creek a fine.  In 2010, ski patrol director Scott Kay was killed in an in-bounds avalanche.  OSHA fined Wolf Creek in that incident citing that the ski area failed to adequately train its patrollers for avalanche work.  That fine was $17,000.

Avalanche Fatality photo. March 2014.
Avalanche Fatality photo. March 2014.

March 2014 Avalanche Fatality Details:

by Colorado Avalanche Information Center

Accident Summary

A ski patroller conducting avalanche hazard mitigation at the Wolf Creek Pass ski area was caught buried and killed. The accident occurred within the ski area boundary, but before the resort was open to the public.

Rescue Summary

There were no witnesses to this accident and therefore we do not know the exact time of the avalanche. Other ski patrollers reached the site about 50 minutes after the victim’s last radio communication. The victim was located using avalanche rescue beacons and pin pointed with a probe pole. Due to the depth of the  and topography of the  site, it took a half hour to expose the victims head after the initial search was complete. The debris piled into a deep hollow, which made it difficult to remove snow from the  site. The victim was buried under 4 feet of snow. He was found with both skis on (telemark equipment), pole straps around his writs, and hat and goggles on. He was wearing an Avalung pack, but the mouth piece had not been deployed (zipped into shoulder strap).

 


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