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Skier dies after falling into tree well at Purgatory Resort

Ski patrol was not successful in efforts to revive 39-year-old Pablo Spencer of Oklahoma
Pablo Spencer, 39, died at Purgatory Resort on Wednesday after falling into a tree well. (Facebook screenshot)

A skier died Wednesday at Purgatory Resort after falling into a tree well and suffering a medical emergency.

Pablo Spencer, 39, of Oklahoma City, fell on the Upper Bull Run trail, an expert run below Dante’s Lodge on the mountain’s backside.

The cause of death is unknown; an autopsy will occur next week. La Plata County Coroner Jann Smith said Spencer was speaking with two friends before he fell unconscious and was wearing a helmet at the time of the fall.

The two friends told officials from the coroner’s office that Spencer had fallen into the tree well and asked that his helmet be removed because something was wrong. The friends then summoned ski patrol.

A tree well is a hole in the snow around the base of a tree created when branches shelter the spot from snowfall and consolidation. Skiers can fall into tree wells and may have a hard time getting out without help.

Deaths related to tree wells are often the result of snow immersion suffocation. However, Smith said she was told that Spencer was not headfirst in the tree well and his face was not immersed in snow, making suffocation an unlikely cause of death.

About 10 minutes elapsed before ski patrollers arrived. Within one minute of their arrival, Spencer fell unconscious. Patrollers removed him from the tree well and performed CPR.

He was pronounced dead at the scene at 12:01 p.m.

According to social media accounts, Spencer was a passionate skier who was raised in Aspen and often returned to Colorado to ski. In a post to Instagram earlier this week, he wrote: “It’s definitely on brand for me to be completely crazy and drive over Wolf Creek Pass during a significant winter storm to chase another significant winter storm to ski.”

In addition to being an avid skier, Spencer enjoyed photography, was a business person, enjoyed volunteering with the American Red Cross and managed three night clubs in Oklahoma City, said his aunt, Alejandrina Romero-Koslosky, in a message to The Durango Herald.

“Overall, a kind heart, a giver, a huge soul and a very loving individual,” she said.

This is the second death Purgatory Ski Patrol has responded to in two weeks. The resort urges skiers to be cautious as snow keeps falling, increasing the risk of tree well and deep-snow related accidents.

“Ski patrol, being first responders – this has been really hard for them,” Purgatory Resort spokeswoman Theresa Graven said.

Purgatory received 10 inches of snow leading into the day of the incident. More information about the risks of deep snow can be found at deepsnowsafety.org.

“We’re all having such a great season and then things like this happen and it’s an emotional roller coaster,” Graven said. “(Ski patrollers) definitely have been working really hard and then dealing with some serious trauma on top of it.”


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