Friends, family recall ski mountain victims |

Friends, family recall ski mountain victims

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times
Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

Friends and relatives of the two men killed Wednesday in separate accidents on local slopes spent much of Thursday remembering their loved ones and coping with the circumstances of the tragic deaths.

Snowmass resident Keith Ames, 43, was killed during an avalanche while skiing Burnt Mountain adjacent to Snowmass ski area. Aspen resident Gabriel Lee Hilliard, 30, died after striking a tree at Aspen Highlands.

Both fatalities occurred early Wednesday afternoon. The two accidents are the first two fatalities in or adjacent to the four ski areas of Aspen and Snowmass this season. A snowstorm Monday and Tuesday improved conditions and was bringing more locals out to the slopes.

Aspenite Jay Maytin said he met Ames in 1992 after Maytin moved to town. Ames had moved to the area not long before that.

“I just remember him as being one of the ripping skiers on Aspen Mountain back in those days,” Maytin said. “He was a great friend, he skied every day, and was just a wonderful guy.”

He said he saw Ames, who was employed as a bartender at Village Steakhouse in Snowmass Village, about a week ago. “He looked great and seemed to be doing real well,” Maytin said. “We had a nice conversation in the street. It’s a shame.”

Ames, a New Jersey native, moved to Aspen to join his brother, Maytin said.

“Keith used to have a long ponytail,” Maytin said. “He really goes back to a time in this town when there were close groups of friends. He was a smiling face that everybody knew back in the day. He was a good-hearted human being and a true skier down to the core.”

Kristi Kavanaugh also remembered Ames’ ponytail and trademark bright yellow ski jacket. Kavanaugh said she hadn’t seen Ames much in recent years because she’s been raising kids, but she still counted him as a friend.

Ames had a few brushes with the law in recent years and also was dealing with substance-abuse issues, but his friends chose not to discuss such matters.

“I’ve known him about 20 years,” Kavanaugh said. “I haven’t seen him much over the last few years, because I had kids and he didn’t. We hung out the most about 10 years ago or so. I was always skiing behind him, because he was always the best skier of the group.”

She said Ames had “a brilliant smile,” and that he was always happiest while skiing.

“He was an incredible skier and he was really happiest on the mountain. I think he was at peace on the mountain, and if he was going to go this young, he went in the best way and hopefully it was very fast,” Kavanaugh said.

Hilliard didn’t have the lengthy Aspen history that Ames experienced, but is being mourned by many in the community based on social-media postings. He formerly worked in restaurants owned by Aspen Skiing Co.

A cousin, Nicola Huffstetler of Hickory, N.C., took issue with Aspen newspaper accounts of his death, saying it was unnecessary to publish gruesome accident details that were included in a Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office report.

“It can be in the sheriff’s report all day long but you don’t have to rewrite it,” she said. “When his mother reads those details that’s going to be devastating to her. Our family was very upset.”

Huffstetler said Hilliard was a native of Martinsburg, W.Va., and formerly served in the U.S. Air Force.

“He loved Colorado, he loved the snow and it was a lifelong dream of his to live there,” she said.

She said Hilliard was “the life of the party. He always had a smile on his face. He loved his mom dearly and his mom adored him.”

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