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Friday, January 16, 2015

A tragic situation; a difficult story

Last summer, I got a call from an old friend from whom I hadn't heard in ages. He had a story idea for me, he said, a big deal. He has pretty close ties to someone who has very close ties to the energy industry, so I figured it was going to be some sort of insider's tip regarding oil and gas drilling. But no. His tip was about Colin Sutton, a ski patroller who was killed by a backcountry avalanche last March while on the job for Wolf Creek Ski Area. It turns out that Davey Pitcher, the CEO of Wolf Creek, didn't have a permit to be doing avalanche or any other sort of work on national forest land outside of the ski area boundaries. The government was pressing charges.

I remember getting a sort of sick feeling in my gut almost immediately. I really didn't want to do the story. It's not really up my alley, and not really up High Country News' alley, either. I felt awful for Doug Sutton, Colin's father, whom my friend had suggested I call to get the rest of the story. But I also felt bad for Pitcher, who's just a guy trying to run a small ski area in a horrendous drought -- he's not exactly a big, bad ski corporation throwing its employees into harm's way in order to make a buck.

But I couldn't really walk away. After all, if Wolf Creek had been a drilling operation, or a coal mine, and someone had died on the rig or underground while doing unauthorized work on public land, we'd try to get to the bottom of it. Still, it was difficult to write; hard to be fair to everyone, to respect Colin and his father and his father's grief. And it kind of made me wish I was an accountant or something.

And so, the story. It's at High Country News, Website only. Read it if you wish.

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