First responders say a snowboarder who died earlier this week at a Vermont resort likely thought he was riding over solid ground, but fresh snow had obscured a deep pit, into which the rider appears to have fallen.
“It's a very sad situation,” said Doug Veliko, the chief of Stowe Mountain Rescue, talking about the death of Brett Cohen. “It’s horrible to lose a young person like that.”
The 22-year-old college student from Needham, Massachusetts, was riding off-trail in the woods, legally, at the Stowe Mountain Resort. He was not far off the trail, Veliko noted.
All the fresh snow had masked a deep hazard, and Cohen apparently tumbled head-first into it.
“He fell into the pit in such a position where it was like a cork in a bottle — it would be very difficult to self-extricate yourself from a position like that,” Veliko said.
Veliko said search and rescue teams worked tirelessly for roughly eight hours after getting the report from a friend of Cohen’s that he was missing.
Late Monday night, Cohen was transported to the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington, where he died early Tuesday.
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A post on the Needham High School Rugby Club page said, "Rest easy our friend."
In a statement, the University of Vermont said the senior was majoring in nutrition and food science. The school added Cohen was active in UVM Hillel and the UVM Ski and Snowboard Club.
“We extend our deepest condolences to Brett’s family,” UVM Vice Provost for Student Affairs Annie Stevens wrote the campus community. “Our sincere thoughts of care and sympathy are also extended to Brett’s friends and to faculty and staff who were close to him.”
“It’s tragic,” said Sean Gryzb, the director of the ski patrol at the Middlebury College Snow Bowl.
Gryzb said he knows a lot of people really love skiing and riding in the woods and understands the appeal of appreciating nature in that way.
At the Snow Bowl, Gryzb strongly urges folks to enjoy the woods in groups of three, so if someone gets into trouble, one person could stay with or near the victim while the other races for help.
“As soon as we educate them on that policy, everyone's very receptive and understands—it’s basically for public safety,” Gryzb said.
Stowe Mountain Rescue said those natural traps full of loose snow are usually more of a concern in the mountains out West, but the conditions have been right for them to form this year in the Northeast, too.
Veliko said he wants skiers and riders heading into the woods to be extra vigilant to avoid another emergency.