The Pitkin County Sheriff Office will forward the results of its investigation into the death of a skier on Aspen Mountain to the district attorney Friday to determine if a charge will be filed, according to lead investigator Brad Gibson.
The investigation into the death of Natalie Egleston is complete, unless new information is learned, Gibson said. Egleston, 48, of Ardmore, Pa., died from injuries she suffered after a collision with another skier Monday afternoon on Aspen Mountain. Virginia Chen, 53, of New York City, was the skier who collided with Egleston, according to Jeff Lumsden, a patrol director with the Sheriff's Office and public information officer on the incident.
According to Gibson and Lumsden, here's what the investigation shows: Chen was skiing down the Copper Bowl trail before merging into Spar Gulch at Grand Junction. The victim, Natalie Egleston, had skied down the expert trail Jackpot moments before and stopped on Spar Gulch for reasons that aren't clear. Lumsden said he heard "two or three" possibilities, such as that Egleston was waiting for a friend to complete skiing down Jackpot and that she was cleaning her goggles.
Chen collided with Egleston a short distance uphill from where Bingo Slot peels off to skier's right of Spar Gulch. Egleston was knocked to the ground from the force of the collision. She suffered a traumatic brain injury as well as cracked ribs, according to the Pitkin County Coroner's Office. Aspen Mountain ski patrol was notified of the collision at 3:46 p.m. and found Egleston unconscious and unresponsive. Egleston was transported to the base of the mountain to an ambulance and then taken to Aspen Valley Hospital, where she was later pronounced dead, authorities said.
Chen suffered only minor injuries, according to Aspen Skiing Co. and the Sheriff's Office. She stayed at the scene and rendered aid, Lumsden said.
Egleston was wearing black and white ski clothing at the time of the accident, Lumsden said. Gibson took pictures of the scene of the accident the following day at the same time to get a feel for the level of shadows, but no conclusions were made as to whether that played a role in the accident, Lumsden said.
Chen was interviewed by deputies Monday evening, but she didn't have an explanation for the cause of the accident, according to Gibson.
Lumsden said there are three provisions of the Colorado Skier Safety Act that have clear criminal elements to them. Skiers and snowboarders cannot be under the influence of drugs or alcohol while on the slopes, they cannot ski in a closed area, and they cannot flee after they are involved in an accident. Based on the investigation, it isn't believed Chen violated any of those provisions, authorities said.
The Colorado Skier Safety Act also says, "Each skier has the duty to maintain control of his speed and course at all times when skiing and to maintain a proper lookout so as to be able to avoid other skiers and objects. However, the primary duty shall be on the person skiing downhill to avoid collision with any person or objects below him."
A violation of the Skier Safety Act is a Class 2 petty offense punishable by a fine of not more than $1,000.
A criminal charge has rarely, if ever, been pursued against a skier or snowboarder by the Pitkin County Sheriff's Office for an accident, Lumsden said, but collisions rarely result in death.
It was unknown how fast Chen was skiing at the time of the collision.
"I would say Aspen's an expert mountain," Lumsden said, declining to elaborate.