Snowmass ski patroller Patsy Hileman died on Sunday from blunt force trauma to the chest and back after she was caught in an avalanche, according to the Pitkin County Coroner.
Hileman was on duty Sunday afternoon when she entered a closed area at Snowmass and triggered the avalanche that led to her death.
The Aspen Skiing Co. is investigating the incident, which occurred in the permanently closed Ship’s Prow Glades in the Hanging Valley Wall. The area is never open to skiers.
SkiCo spokesman Jeff Hanle said that ski patrol sometimes does work in the Ship’s Prow area. But it remains unclear why Hileman was there, the company said in a statement released Monday afternoon.
“At this point we have no knowledge of Patsy’s intentions and we will not speculate on this matter,” the statement reads. “We can confirm that we have located only one set of tracks going in to the area. There will be no additional statement until the investigation is complete.”
A team from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center investigated the site of the slide on Monday. Center director Ethan Greene said that the snowpack in Ship’s Prow is partly boot-packed and partly in unaltered backcountry-like condition, and they haven’t determined whether the avalanche area had been packed at all.
Typical of local snowpack right now, he said, it had a weak base covered in a thickening slab of heavy snow.
“This is creating tricky avalanche conditions,” Greene said, adding that due to avalanche danger they were unable to dig in the exact location where the slide was triggered. Because there were no eyewitnesses to the avalanche, Green said, he doesn’t think they’ll be able to pinpoint the precise cause of the slide. Their investigation is ongoing.
Hileman triggered a small slide in the area that swept her over a cliff, according to SkiCo.
She was found there less than 40 minutes after a search was initiated at 12:45 p.m. Sunday. Patrollers were able to find her so quickly because they knew she was stationed at the High Alpine chairlift. When she was overdue at her station, patrollers set out from there and spread out across the lift’s terrain. She was pronounced dead on the scene.
Members of a grieving Snowmass Ski Patrol declined to comment on their colleague Monday.
Hileman, 49, had been a patroller at Snowmass for 26 years, becoming a well-loved fixture on the mountain and around Snowmass Village.
“We’re devastated up here,” said George Gordon of Gwyn’s High Alpine restaurant. “She was a good friend and one of the nicest people around.”
Hileman’s last stop before the avalanche may have been in Gwyn’s, where employee Greg Vancour spoke with her Sunday. He said she answered some guests’ questions about opening terrain on the mountain before heading back out from the routine stop on her patrol route.
“She always had a smile on her face,” Vancour said. “You’d see her and it always made you feel good.”
Hileman had also worked as part of Snowmass Village’s summertime “Green Team” in the 1980s and ’90s, assisting with municipal landscaping and trails projects.
“She was one of those smiling faces around Snowmass Village,” said Mayor Bill Boineau. “She’s going to be missed. This really sucks.”