The Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, under advisement of Mountain Rescue Aspen and the Colorado Avalanche Information Center has again suspended recovery operations for the deceased skier in the East Snowmass Creek backcountry. Incident operations will resume on Monday, February 28. Recovery team members and weather experts will re-assess the backcountry stability and avalanche danger.
Since the avalanche occurred on Tuesday, February 22, extreme weather conditions have kept rescue teams from recovering the body of skier Brandon John Zukoff, who was buried by the slide while skiing with two friends. The other skiers escaped uninjured.
Throughout the week continued snow accumulation and poor visibility have prevented the use of a helicopter and have kept ground crews from being able to remove the body.
An unexpected window of opportunity presented itself yesterday, and a team of 18 rescuers went to the site. Last night Snowmass Ski Patrol took avalanche mitigation measures which caused another slide that further buried the body.
The recovery team hopes by early next week the winter storms will subside and avalanche conditions will stabilize, allowing them to safely search for Zukoff’s body using probes and scent dogs.
Currently the area is experiencing steady snowfall, with new accumulation of 48 inches. The prediction through Saturday is an additional 15-20 inches with winds gusting up to 50 miles per hour. According to Colorado Avalanche Information Center forecaster Brian McCall: “Due to the steepness of the terrain and how large the avalanche paths are, it is not recommended for anyone to access the area at this point.”