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Backcountry ski survivor anticipates warm weather return to accident scene

Lynn Burton

Brian Kruse doesn’t remember his unforgettable June 3, 2001, backcountry ski experience. A 1,200-foot slide down Mount Evans, halted by a boulder field and followed by a five-hour rescue and neurosurgery will do that to a guy.

Kruse smiled this week and said his backcountry ski days are over. But he plans to hike back to the scene of his accident this June 3.

“I want to see the place that almost shortened my life,” he said.

Kruse, 31, store manager for Sherwin Williams in Glenwood Springs, is an experienced skier, but his trip with five friends last June was his first in the backcountry.

The group planned to ski down a chute on Mount Evans called the Twisted Devil. The rock- and boulder-strewn run starts at a 45 degree angle and is about 8 to 10 feet wide, before fanning out and ending more than 1,000 vertical feet below.

Kruse caught an edge and lost a ski at the top of the chute, then fell and quickly lost the other ski. After that, Kruse flipped end-over-end, and rag-dolled hundreds of feet down the slope before crashing on the rocks.

“I wasn’t sure he’d be alive when we reached him,” said ski companion Jeff Ensey at the time.

Fighting high winds and snow, the skiers struggled for hours to haul the 160-pound Kruse down off the mountain. In the party was John Doose, a former ski patrol director at Sunlight Mountain Resort and EMT, who was carrying a small first aid kit.

One of the first orders of business was to dispatch Ensey and Glen Ammon for help. A rescue helicopter appeared at about 12:30 p.m. but was unable to land due to high winds. An hour later, Doose and the rest of the party decided to start down the mountain on their own.

At times, the skiers belayed Kruse down the slope. Later, one skier would break trail through the hip deep snow, while two others put Kruse’s arms over their shoulders to bring him along.

The party descended 1,500 to 2,000 feet before meeting rescuers.

Kruse was strapped to a bean bag splint, which resembles a sleeping bag, then strapped into a collapsible toboggan. The descent included a rappel over a rock face. In all, rescuers used their 160-foot rappelling rope a dozen times.

At the road, Kruse was loaded into an ambulance and taken to Idaho Springs, where a St. Anthony’s ambulance waited.

He suffered a torn artery leading to the brain, a leg broken in two places and cuts. At St. Anthony’s, he underwent neurosurgery and was placed in traction for several days.

Kruse, who moved to Glenwood Springs from Nebraska four years ago, remained in rehabilitation in Denver until June 27. His rehab included speech therapy.

“The doctors weren’t sure I’d be able to talk again. I was slurring my words,” he said.

These days, Kruse talks just fine, walks just fine, and a person would never know what he went through.

On his return to Glenwood Springs, Kruse lived with Ensey for a while, “until the stairs got too hard.” He then moved in with friends Erin and Justin Glasenapp.

“They all took me in,” Kruse said.

Kruse returned to the paint store in August, but could only work two to four hours a day. “I was exhausted, but after a few weeks was back to full time. It was good just to be alive,” he said.

Because Kruse doesn’t remember his ordeal, friends told him all about it in the weeks and months that followed. In January, one of the skiers said he flipped as high as 12 feet while tumbling down the chute.

“I never heard that,” Kruse said.

Kruse returned to groomed slopes this winter. He smiles when relating the story about breaking his collarbone while skiing in Vail in February. He called his mom, told her he was in the hospital and she asked, “What now?”

Kruse told her he had a broken collarbone, “but it’s just one bone this time.”

Kruse, who wasn’t wearing a helmet during his backcountry crash, urges skiers to wear them. As for the upcoming summer, he’s looking forward to his Mount Evans hike, playing golf, “and just living life.”


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