Snowmass ski patroller Patricia "Patsy" Hileman, 49, was swept over a cliff and killed after triggering an avalanche on Sunday while skiing alone in "permanently closed" but inbounds terrain in an area at Snowmass known as the Hanging Valley Headwall at the resort near Aspen, Colo. The Hanging Valley Headwall terrain is best known as one of the venues for the annual Colorado Freeride Championships in recent years and has a reputation as some of Colorado's most extreme in-bounds terrain.
According to an official statement from the Aspen Skiing Company, Hileman, a 26-year veteran of the Snowmass ski patrol, was working on Sunday and a search was initiated at 12:45 p.m. after she was overdue to her station. "She was located by patrol at approximately 1:23 p.m. and medical treatment was initiated immediately," according to the statement. "She was pronounced dead at the scene from unspecified causes at 1:37 p.m. and transported to the Snowmass Clinic."
Hileman's death is the first avalanche-related fatality in Colorado this season, but follows less than a week after two deaths near Lake Tahoe, Calif., at Alpine Meadows and Donner Ski Ranch. "This is a shocking and tragic accident that deeply affects everyone in the company," Mike Kaplan, president and CEO of Aspen Skiing Company, said in the statement. "Our deepest sympathies and condolences are with her family and friends at this time."
Sections of the Hanging Valley Headwall were opened to the public for the first time during the 2012-13 season last week, following heavy storms in the area; Hileman died in an area known as the Ship's Prow Glades, near the Upper Ladder section of the Hanging Valley terrain, which has been deemed unsafe for the public to ski, according to Jeff Hanle, director of public relations for the Aspen Ski Company.
"Not a lot more detail to share with anybody today, but there will be an ongoing investigation over the next couple of days and weeks with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center and the Forest Service and whoever else," Hanle told ESPN.com.
According to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center's initial incident report, Hileman "likely died from injuries sustained in the avalanche and subsequent fall. ... CAIC staff will visit the site on Monday and post more information as it becomes available."
Hileman had been a member of the Snowmass ski patrol since 1986. In an internal email to Aspen Skiing Company employees published on Monday by the Aspen Daily News, Kaplan wrote that "Patsy was passionate about her job, her co-workers and skiing. She loved being in the mountains and on her days off she could typically be found on the mountain or touring the backcountry. She was a true fixture on the Snowmass patrol and her absence will be felt by all of us. ... It is always difficult to lose a friend and co-worker, but over this holiday period, it is especially hard."