Woman dies at Steamboat Ski Area | SteamboatToday.com

Woman dies at Steamboat Ski Area

23-year-old Arapahoe Basin ski instructor found in tree well

Zach Fridell

— Grace Lynn McNeil, a 23-year-old ski instructor who taught at Arapahoe Basin Ski and Snowboard Area, was found dead in a tree well at the Steamboat Ski Area this morning.

Routt County Coroner Rob Ryg said McNeil was in Steamboat Springs with four ski instructor friends and became separated from her group at about 1:30 Tuesday afternoon. Ski patrollers found her at 8:07 this morning, but Ryg said she had been dead since Tuesday afternoon.

Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. spokesman Mike Lane said patrollers found the woman's body at the base of Chute 3, a double-black-diamond run in the Christmas Tree Bowl area. Ski patrollers and Routt County Search and Rescue volunteers searched for McNeil until about 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, Lane said, and resumed the search at 6 a.m. today.

Ryg said the cause of death was not yet known. McNeil was found with about 2 feet of snow over her head in a tree well off the side of the run, and she was at a downward angle with her head lower than her feet. She was wearing a helmet, Ryg said, and there was no obvious head injury. Tree wells are areas of loose snow at the base of evergreen trees that can trap skiers and snowboarders, possibly causing suffocation.

Two men died in tree wells at the Steamboat Ski Area during the 2007-08 ski season.

Ryg said McNeil was originally from Cedar, Mich., and her mother now lives in Nevada. Ryg said he notified the woman's family this morning.

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Arapahoe Basin spokeswoman Leigh Hierholzer said McNeil was a children's instructor who began working with the resort in April.

"She was outgoing, quick with a smile and fantastic with the children she taught to ski," Hierholzer said. "Her supervisor described her as a rock-star employee."

An autopsy will be performed, probably in Jefferson County, to determine the cause of death.

On Tuesday, Lane said the woman was skiing on Christmas Tree Bowl with friends and was last seen at skier's right of the Big Meadow area. The friends skied down to the Bar UE chairlift, said John Kohnke, of Ski Patrol, but the woman did not come down.