Goodwin-Greene Hut -- The Lost Skiers and "Miracle in the Mountains" --1993
(Editor's note: The following is by no means intended to disparage the individuals involved in this event, but rather to share their story so that others might learn from their mistakes.)
In February of 1993, Ken Torp, Elliot Brown, Dee and Rob Dubin, Andrea Brett, Brigette Schlugar and Richard Rost start a backcountry skiing trip from Ashcroft, Colorado for the Goodwin Green Hut via Express Creek. In doing so, they ignore a brewing storm and the worst avalanche conditions of the winter. (Later that day avalanches cause a lengthy closure of Castle Creek Road for the first time in recent history.)
The crew reaches Express Creek Saddle in full conditions. Somehow ignoring their compass, or imagining they were much farther north than they really were, they head S to find the Goodwin Green Hut — the opposite direction from the hut — and into the teeth of one of the worst storms since 1934. As night falls they reach point 12,430, drop over the side and make a feeble attempt at snow caving. The cave collapses and they overnight in a large pit of spindrift, without bivouac gear, their lightweight and rapidly soaking sleeping bags barely keeping them on the earthly side of hypothermia. They gnaw on frozen food intended for cooking in a warm hut.
Morning comes, the blizzard howls, the group does not communicate well (by some accounts they argue). Torp and Brown, the strongest skiers of the group, intend to break trail and lead the others back down Express Creek, but end up traveling the opposite direction, towards Taylor Park, meaning they had at least 20 miles ski and foot travel to reach civilization. Communication breaks down due to the weather and the skiers spreading out. At some point Richard Rost decides not to follow Torp and Brown, and heads in the correct direction for Express Creek, accompanied by Andrea Brett. The Dubins and Birgitta Schlugar probably follow the most obvious tracks, ending up heading towards Taylor Park some distance behind Torp and Brown.
Rost and Brett slog for nine hours back down to Ashcroft, somewhat reversing their route of the previous day, miraculously avoiding death under scores of avalanche paths. They find a telephone and report the rest of their party is lost. They assume Birgitta Schlugar and the Dubins have followed, but as the hours go by, it becomes painfully obvious that those three have either been caught in an avalanche in Express Creek, or taken a wrong turn somewhere. A huge rescue effort ensues, replete with national media frenzy as well as small town political scrapping about rescue leadership and decision making.
Three nights later (with two spent in cabins they broke into), Torp and Brown catch a snowmobile ride out of the mountains after a 20-mile slog through Taylor Park. Not the first time skiers have been lost and taken that route, but probably the first time skiers as poorly prepared and confused as Torp and Brown have done it. But what of the other three skiers, Schlugar and the Dubins? They follow Torp and Brown, albeit much more slowly, and end up much the worse for wear, staying warm by burning the furniture in a Taylor Park cabin. A rescue helicopter picks them up the same day Torp and Brown ski out.
Experienced Colorado skiers who’d slogged Taylor Park chuckled when Birgitta Schlugar complained to the media that her companions had treated her like a “Roman slave girl.” Truth be told, anyone who breaks trail through Taylor Park will feel like a slave, or worse.
This fiasco was dubbed “Miracle in the Mountains” by the media. Movie rights were chased, politicians made hay, big money was spent for the rescue effort (at least $30,000) and hopefully, lessons were learned.
What lessons did Torp and his group teach us? Keep your group together; check the weather before you start; carry food that’s edible without cooking; carry functional bivouac gear; navigate with skill and poise. It’s easy to come up with a few more.