Families and town leaders in Eagle struggled Wednesday to absorb the deaths of three prominent and well-loved community members to a backcountry avalanche in the San Juans, as looming snow and potential thunderstorms slowed recovery efforts.
“Eagle County Government and the Town of Eagle are joining the community in mourning the loss of three friends and leaders. While an official announcement has not yet been made by our partners in San Juan County, the families of Seth Bossung, Andy Jessen and Adam Palmer are allowing us to share their names so we can all openly acknowledge their deaths and grieve together,” the town and county governments said in a statement at midday Wednesday.
“The families are surrounded by loved ones, and we are asking everyone to respect their wishes as to when and how they wish to communicate with others. Our hearts are heavy with the loss of these three men,” the statement said.
Jessen in November celebrated the 10th anniversary of founding Eagle’s popular Bonfire Brewing. Palmer, who directed Eagle County’s Sustainable Communities program, in April was elected to Eagle’s Board of Trustees. Bossung managed projects for the county’s energy efficiency department. Palmer and Bossung each had two children.
“Their contributions through their work in local government and local businesses, as well as their personal passions and their impact on the friends and family members they leave behind, have helped shape the community in ways that will be forever lasting. Every single one of us in both of our organizations has learned by their examples, and we are grateful to be able to call them colleagues,” the statement said.
Four skiers were initially caught in the avalanche on The Nose slope of South Lookout Peak, and one was quickly helped by the three other skiers in the party, suffering minor injuries, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center’s preliminary report.
The four surviving skiers dug for their three friends, but could not uncover them by Monday night. Rescue teams from San Juan County Search and Rescue began their own digging efforts at sunrise Tuesday morning, but were not able to extricate the three men. They planned to return to rescue work Wednesday, but weather made plans uncertain.
A GoFundMe page for Amanda Jessen, who co-founded and ran Bonfire Brewing with her husband, Andy, asked for help paying expenses from the accident and supporting the family.
The added ravages of a year under COVID-19 are evident throughout the memorial pages. The Jessen page mentions how tough it has been to operate a brewery and restaurant with frequent coronavirus restrictions. The page for Palmer’s wife, Kalie, urges friends not to give up virus distancing guidelines while they mourn their loss. Bossung’s page asks that any “visits are masked, short, and on the front porch.”
San Juan County rescue teams worked from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday to reach the men. La Plata search and rescue crews brought in a snowcat to remove debris from an avalanche on the Ophir Pass road that trapped San Juan County snowmobiles and equipment on Tuesday.
Using signals from the men’s transceivers, crews were able to locate and extricate the skiers late Wednesday. According to a statement from San Juan County officials issued late Wednesday, the skiers were buried in more than 20 feet of avalanche debris. A helicopter will retrieve the men during the “next open window of weather” that allows for helicopter access, reads the statement.
The statement from Eagle encouraged anyone who is seeking help to understand or process the tragedy to reach out to https://www.eaglevalleybh.org/get-help-now.
The losses from the San Juan accident, the worst since five people were killed in an avalanche near Loveland Pass on April. 20, 2013, add to an already ominous avalanche season in Colorado; four skiers died in slides in December. Colorado’s snow season has developed dangerous slabs of packed snow underneath relatively shallow new layers, promoting the breakoff of slabs and deadly slides in numerous popular backcountry locations.
San Juan and other locations continued to warn backcountry travelers of potential slides this week.