Forest Service mourns loss of ranger who died Thursday in Leadville backcountry | PostIndependent.com

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Forest Service mourns loss of ranger who died Thursday in Leadville backcountry

When a rescue team found Brett Beasley in Leadville's backcountry on Thursday afternoon, he was severely hypothermic after enduring frigid temperatures and heavy snowfall overnight with another skier.

Beasley's companion, a 14-year-old boy, appeared unharmed and was transported by snowmobile to his family. Meanwhile, rescuers treated Beasley for hypothermia and attempted to bring in a medical helicopter to transport him to a hospital. However, due to the severe weather conditions air transport was not an option.

Beasley, an expert skier who was nearing 20 years as a ranger with the U.S. Forest Service, died at the scene. The cause of his death is undetermined, and an autopsy is pending.

The rescue team began searching for Beasley and the youth early Thursday. The two skiers had been part of a group of around 10 people on a hut trip near Leadville before deciding to go out skiing on their own on Wednesday morning.

Beasley, 47, lived in Salida. He leaves behind a wife and two daughters.

Jim Pitts, the Salida District ranger for the San Isabel National Forest, said that Beasley was one of the strongest and most passionate workers he had ever known. Beasley's 20th anniversary working in the San Isabel would have been on Jan. 12.

"He was one who would roll up his shirt sleeves and be right there doing things with you," Pitts said.

He said that Beasley brought people together, whether it was through his job, or simply by cruising down trails on his mountain bike and stopping to talk to hikers. Pitts said that if you could keep up with Beasley on a mountain bike, you would have witnessed a thing of grace and beauty.

"He could ride a bike like he was floating on a cloud," Pitts said.

He said the devastating loss of Beasley hit the community hard. Beasley's family was deeply involved in community service in Salida, Pitts explained.

"Brett was full of life; he had a ton of energy," he said.

The search for Beasley and the young skier started at 7:30 a.m. Thursday a day after the two had split from their group, which had been staying at Uncle Bud's Hut near Leadville.

The cabin is owned by the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association. Patrick Essig, a hut association staffer for 11 years, said Uncle Bud's sits at 11,380 feet in elevation and is stocked year-round with fuel for the wood-burning stove. The cabins do not have phones, and cell service is spotty.

While there is a trailhead to the cabin that follows a Forest Service road, the backcountry landscape around the hut is a little more rugged and undefined. Although there are some easy downhills, much of the terrain is technical. Both Beasley and the youth were identified as expert skiers.

The Lake County Office of Emergency Management had posted to Facebook at around 9:30 a.m. Thursday that a search for the two was underway, but they were not identified as missing. The post said there was a possibility that they had found shelter.

Beasley and the youth were found around 2:30 p.m. Thursday in the Porcupine Gulch area, north of Turquoise Lake and nearly three miles away from Uncle Bud's Hut. The youth is still in good condition, said Betty Benson, a spokeswoman for Lake County.

Benson said that the pair likely got lost due to the heavy snowfall.

"The weather was a challenge, and I think that they got a little disoriented," she said.