WINTER PARK, Colo. - This winter's sixth victim of a deep-snow immersion was a 48-year-old free spirit who sometimes went by the name of "Baker" Dave in Winter Park, a tip of his beret to his winter occupation.
Dave Riddle's friends described him as "eccentric," reported the Sky-Hi News . He had studied physics in college, and his head was always full of ideas, but also increasingly the words of Mandarin. He had met a Chinese woman and had traveled to China eight times in the last two years, with the understanding by her father that she would be allowed to marry once he had learned Mandarin and purchased land in China.
For a couple of decades he got at least 100 days each season at Winter Park on skis, both alpine and telemark, or on a snowboard - which is how he was found on the evening of Feb. 11, outside the boundary of Winter Park.
He was wearing a helmet, but blunt trauma wasn't the problem. Plunged head first into the well of soft and deep snow next to the tree he had suffocated.
It's been a bad winter for tree-well and other deep-snow immersions. In addition to the one in Colorado, there were two in rapid succession at the same ski area in Montana, one in California, and two in British Columbia.
One of the latter occurred during a snowcat trip at Retallack Lodge, B.C. The other was at Whistler at Christmas, when a snowboarder was trapped in an inverted position after falling in deep snow in a creek bed. Unlike the others, it was not next to a tree.
An average of 3.8 deaths occur annually in the United States from what Paul Baugher calls non-avalanche related snow immerse deaths, or NARSID. The figures from British Columbia would boost that figure substantially. British Columbia has had the most NARSID fatalities since 1990, followed by California and Colorado.
Baugher, who is the director of Washington's Crystal Mountain Ski Patrol, has become the ski industry's expert on deep-snow immersions. He said he and others dismissed the first tree-immersion fatality at Crystal Mountain in the early 1990s as a freakish accident. But when another one occurred a decade later, he set out to investigate.
He has discovered that immersion deaths, in which the individuals cannot right themselves, correlate with the deep snows of La Niña winters. There's also a correlation with bigger canopy trees, such as are found in the Sierra Nevada, the Pacific Northwest, and Montana.
Colorado has fewer such trees, but it has more skiers. He found no immersion deaths east of the Rockies, probably because deep, powdery snowstorms rarely occur.