Sydney Elizabeth Owens, a 25-year-old skier from Denver, was skiing with ten friends in a guided group on a lift-served expert slope when she lost control and slid to her death, said San Juan County Sheriff Sue Kurtz.
“She rolled and bounced down the slope for 1,500 feet,” Kurtz said.
An autopsy conducted Tuesday determined the cause of Owens’ death was blunt trauma due to the skiing accident, San Juan County Coroner Keri Metzler reported.
The accident occurred at 10:06 a.m. According to an incident report compiled by Undersheriff Chris Burns, based on information provided by the guide, Owens and her friends were out on their first run of the day. They were skiing Riff Run, shown on Silverton Mountain’s trail map as a steep chute running straight down the east face of Boulder Mountain, from its ridge line into a narrow gully.
The run is accessed from the top of the extreme ski area’s sole chair lift.
Owens was the third in her group to head down the slope. She lost control almost immediately. The slope has no run-outs, and therefore requires skiers to self-arrest if they fall. Witnesses to the accident noted that Owens made no attempt to self-arrest.
“She never came out of the fall,” Kurtz said. “She was not able to self rescue, and came to a rest only at the end of the run.” Her body was recovered in an area called Choke and Rock Field.
Silverton Mountain ski patrol and emergency personnel responded to the accident scene and conducted CPR on Owens. “She was not at all responsive, and they were not able to revive her,” Kurtz said.
A statement from Silverton Mountain released on Monday said Owens was wearing a helmet at the time of the accident. However, the sheriff’s report stated, the victim was not wearing a helmet when her body was recovered.
It is the first fatality at Silverton Mountain since the extreme ski area opened 12 years ago. “They have a great safety record,” Kurtz said. “They’re pretty careful in screening people. Everyone has to sign a waiver that they can ski at this level.”
It was apparent that Owens could generally do so. The sheriff’s report described her as an expert skier who had been skiing for three years, and who frequented black diamond runs at Vail and Breckenridge. A native of Charlotte, N.C., she moved to Denver in 2009 after graduating from the University of Virginia, according to a story in www.onthesnow.com, and had been planning a trip to Silverton for some time.
Silverton Mountain, along with other ski areas across Colorado, has suffered from relatively sparse snowfall this winter. While Silverton Mountain officials did not comment on whether snow conditions were a factor in Owens’ accident, skiers have described recent conditions on the mountain as “treacherous” and “super-slick.”
“We choose to forfeit our $100 lift passes and went home a day early,” said one skier from Salida, in an online response to the www.onthesnow.com story. “Having skied over 40 years I had rarely experienced such challenging, and dangerous, conditions.”
The logo for Silverton Mountain Ski Area is a bright yellow triangle with black graphics, calling to mind a highway hazard sign. It shows a skier tumbling headfirst down a craggy vertical incline. Far from scaring off customers, the “all thrills, no frills” sk area near the town of Silverton has become a mecca for riders who crave extreme backcountry terrain with no groomed runs and no cut trails.
The area was promoting $50 single heli-skiing rides the day Owens died.