Saving Lives, Deadly Slides and Close Calls

A strange week of weather in the mountains was followed by an even stranger week of accidents, some tragic.

On Sunday, Feb. 9, Bruce Charron, a longtime Jay Peak skier, lost a ski. In the icy conditions, he slid down the slope and hit trees on the side of the trail. The incident happened around 12:45 and emergency personnel responded right away but were not able to save the 68-year-old. Police are still investigating.

Charron, 68, was a well-known figure at Jay Peak and in Montreal, where he had helped raise more than $4 million for Montreal’s Children’s Hospital. He was due to be honored for his work there this weekend. Our condolences go out to his family and community.

That same afternoon of Feb. 9, a local Vermont man (his name is withheld as his family has requested privacy) was hiking the Long Trail on Mt. Mansfield in Stowe.  As he descended, he cut off the Long Trail and hiked onto a closed Stowe ski trail, Chin Clip. No one is sure what happened next but a skier found him, unconscious, near the bottom of the Chin Clip.

The man, 62, was an experienced hiker who was wearing crampons. He had apparently fallen, slid and suffered extensive head injuries and a collapsed lung.  He was transported to University of Vermont Medical Center where he is now in stable condition. Rescuers were able to find his dog, who was stuck at the top of the slope, afraid to venture out on the slick surface. “He’s lucky that a skier found him as it was late in the day and he’d probably still be there,” said a friend of the hiker’s.

Both incidents were no doubt exacerbated by the icy conditions. After two days of rain followed by winds that gusted to 148 mph on Mt. Washington, setting a 10-year-record, many slopes were blasted clean of snow and left with icy surfaces. With a foot of snow expected Tuesday and Wednesday, Stowe Mountain Rescue and other organizations were advising people to watch for avalanches as the new snow is not likely to bond with the slick surface.

A week before, quick thinking on the part of two Castleton University students also helped save a life. On Feb. 3, Castleton U.’s team, the Spartans, was at the top of the standings at a collegiate race at West Mountain, in Queensbury, N.Y. Teammates  Kylie Mackie and Linn Ljungemo were acting as gatekeepers for the men’s race when a friend of Kylie’s, Babson ski racer Victor Wiacek, took off on the GS course. At the gate where the two women were stationed, Wiacek fell onto the edge of one of his skis, tearing a deep gash in his leg.

According to Castleton’s Director of Athletics, Thomas Black, Mackie and Ljungemo, along with Mackie’s father, Kurt, were the first individuals on scene as onlookers waited for ski patrol to arrive and continue first aid. “I heard my dad [Kurt] call for a tourniquet as he ran over,” said Mackie. “I could hear Victor screaming as Linn and I were running up the mountain and ripping off our jackets. When we got to him I tied my windbreaker around his leg while Linn went up to his head to talk to him and comfort him.”

Wiacek lost so much blood that the ambulance that was headed for Albany Hospital had to stop at Saratoga Hospital. University of Connecticut head coach, Bruce Diamond, who was nearby on the mountain, wrote in a letter to university administration that Mackie and Ljungemo “remained absolutely composed and focused as they calmly comforted the fallen athlete. Their actions prior to and after the arrival of ski patrol were critical to avoiding an irreparably disastrous result.” After the incident, both girls were encouraged to take their second race run, which they did.

Castleton College Spartans Kylie Mackie and Linn Ljungemo who helped save a friend of Mackie’s, Victor Wiacek.

While conditions will no doubt improve as snow piles up this week, remember the surface below may still be slick and be prepared.

Lisa Lynn

Editor of VT SKI + RIDE and Vermont Sports.