~ Taming the Snow Beast ~


Screen Shot 2018-03-31 at 4.41.35 PMBy Tim Cooney, Aspen Journalism Mar 31, 2018

What many Highland Bowl lap counters and sixth-gear cruisers now take for granted as an everyday occurrence is only possible because of the sacrifices made by a distinguished lineage of Bowl-focused snow experts on the Aspen Highlands Ski Patrol going back to the 1970s. To this day, they put their skin in the game to tame what was once thought to be an unmanageable ski wilderness.  

One event stands out in Bowl history: the avalanche on March 31, 1984, that took the lives of three ski patrolmen. The day began in Aspen with temperatures in the mid-30s, as fanciful clouds scudded across a deep blue Colorado sky, with no hint of imminent tragedy. 

At 11 a.m., “4-7 Control Team” consisting of Tom Snyder, Craig Soddy, and Chris Kessler left Loge patrol room to hike the bowl and do snow safety work. After launching a number of two-pound charges off the Highland Bowl ridge leading to Highland Peak, they skied down between the resultant craters in upper G-8, before stopping at the North Woods edge one-third of the way down, one eye-witness said. Eyeing their objective in the lower-middle section of the Bowl, they consulted. 

 Their confidence was based on historic Highlands documents of snow-pit analysis, the strategic placement and some deep burying of nearly 200 charges in upper Bowl starting zones throughout the 1983-‘84 season, and a remarkably cohesive upper Bowl snowpack that had defied season-long efforts to shake it loose.

One by one they traversed to the skiers’ right-center bench of G-8, deep in the tangible sacredness Bowl travelers of all eras know well. There they deployed a launcher dubbed “The Ultimate Weapon,” an effective device that sling-shot charges into places too far to otherwise reach. 

They planned to put three more charges into a refilled lower pocket that had slid on March 8 and twice in December (the first slide in early December was naturally triggered). 

The first charge to the skier’s left in lower B-1 (now between lower Ozone and Be One) brought no result. Then they launched the second of the charges below them where the pitch steepened. They never got to launch the third. What happened and why has become a look-back topic of armchair quarterbacking. But an examination of original Highlands snow safety and ski patrol records from that time and interviews with at least a dozen individuals with knowledge of these matters adds much more to the story.



Aspen Brahman – Bill Flanagan and Matt Wells in the old days ~ 1968FullSizeRender

a little later in life with acquired years & wisdom.

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