After Colin Sutton, a 39-year-old ski patrol veteran at Wolf Creek in Colorado, was killed in an avalanche last month, his family and friends wanted to make sure his passion for snow would live on. To that end, they have been working to establish a scholarship fund that will help provide mountain-safety education.
Sutton, Wolf Creek’s avalanche technician, died March 4 when he triggered an avalanche near Conejos Peak in southern Colorado, where he and fellow patrollers were investigating sites for a potential heli-skiing operation. According to reports, Sutton was skiing away from a snow pit he just dug on Diablo Ridge when the avalanche occurred. He was with patrollers Tim Lemley, Tanner Patty, and Jonathan Reed when the avalanche occurred (none of them were caught in the slide), and fellow patrollers Brian Pringle, Davey Pitcher, and Eric Deitermeyer responded to aid in the rescue. The group found Sutton, dug him out, and performed CPR until he was airlifted to Mercy Regional Medical Center in Durango, where he was pronounced dead.
Sutton had been working on a mountain education program for elementary, junior high, and high school students—the inspiration for Sutton’s family and friends to start a scholarship fund in the wake of his death. Though the fund is not yet established, it will be governed by a board of directors and designed to help people learn more about snow science and avalanche safety. Further details about the scholarship fund are scheduled to be announced in late spring or early summer.
Sutton is one of eight backcountry travelers who have died in Colorado avalanches this season. On March 5, a snowmobiler died on Sharkstooth Peak in the La Plata Mountains, in the southern San Juans.
“It has been a fairly active season in Colorado," says Brian Lazar, deputy director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. "But the southern San Juans haven’t had a lot of activity until these two avalanches.”
Despite a common misconception that avalanche deaths are caused by inexperience, Sutton was far from green. “It’s very hard to make sense of [this] when you see somebody who is very conservative in his approach,” says Davey Pitcher, Wolf Creek Ski Area’s CEO and one of the six patrollers who helped find Sutton. “He approached all of his duties being thoughtful about the conditions.”
In 12 years as a professional ski patroller, Sutton conducted and shared snow research. He held a permit for Colorado Type I Explosives and certifications as a Level III Avalanche Technician, Emergency Medical Technician, and Outdoor Emergency Care Provider. Sutton grew up skiing at Wolf Creek and Santa Fe Ski Basin.
Pitcher describes Sutton as a powder hound, and a “consummate professional with a driving interest for understanding the snowpack and being in the San Juan Mountains.” Hungry for fresh powder and knowledge of avalanche behavior, Sutton traveled throughout Colorado, Alaska, and South America. “He was very humble and would do things because he wanted to do them, not because he was trying to prove anything,” Pitcher says.