Five fatalities in a week at Mammoth
MAMMOTH LAKES – One was a dentist and avid outdoorsman, another a retired water deliveryman, the third a San Diego teenager and the fourth a marketing representative. The fifth was an accomplished ski patrol member traversing the Eastern Sierra’s breathtaking backcountry.
Four of them died on consecutive days while skiing on Mammoth Mountain, three of them in accidents. The fifth, an eight-year veteran of the resort’s ski patrol, was killed in an avalanche 55 miles north of the famed winter playground. The deaths occurred in the span of just a week.
“By the second day, we were all looking around saying, ‘Wow,’ ” said Mammoth Mountain spokeswoman Joani Lynch. “And by the fourth day, it was unbelievable.”
The mountain community five hours north of Los Angeles and about 150 miles from South Lake Tahoe is a snow sports destination that draws 1 million visitors a year. In a normal season, three people die in accidents or from natural causes at the resort. Last season, only one person died.
Over at Canyon Lodge, a coffee shop at the base of the mountain, customers Sunday morning said they would be more cautious on the slopes.
“Maybe I won’t do the intermediate runs this trip,” said Lynn Ablian, 29, who was snowboarding for the fifth time.
Her friend, Victoria Perez, 29, said the accidents were making her consider buying a helmet.
“If I’m not comfortable,” Perez said, “I’m not going to push it and go forward too hard.”
At Ski Renter, a ski shop in the heart of Mammoth Lakes Village, technician Mike Wright said he had seen a run in helmet rentals among people who had heard about the deaths.
“People are a little more concerned,” Wright said.
His colleague Austin Wise, who repairs skis, added, “It’s just so many people died in a short amount of time. It’s pretty scary.”
The deaths underscore that skiing and snowboarding are inherently risky sports. During the 2003-04 season, according to the National Ski Areas Association, 41 people died in skiing or snowboarding accidents nationwide.
The Mammoth deaths were unrelated to each other, officials said, adding that staff members who work on the slopes took the deaths particularly hard, especially that of ski patroller Sara Johanna Carlsson, 31, a native of Sweden. Some employees talked to a counselor provided by Mammoth management and others took time off work to grieve.
Online forums on Mammoth’s Web site were abuzz over the weekend with ski enthusiasts’ incredulousness at what unfolded from Jan. 26 to Feb. 1. Posters traded information, and some tried to figure out how they could avoid similar fates.
So many deaths in such a short time “certainly gives us pause to reflect on whether or not something was wrong,” said Gary Reitman, general manager for mountain operations. “But in reviewing all these accounts, it was made very clear that none of them had (anything) to do with the others.”
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