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Grandson of Vail resort co-founder killed in Colorado avalanche

By Carma Hassan and Greg Botelho, CNN
January 8, 2014 -- Updated 1515 GMT (2315 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Friend: Anthony "Tony" Seibert was "an uplifting person" who loved the backcountry
  • NEW: Vail's COO laments "an incomprehensible loss" to the community, the Seiberts
  • Seibert dies in East Vail Chutes; 3 people were rescued with minor injuries
  • The lone victim is a grandson of Peter Seibert Sr., a co-founder of the Vail ski resort

(CNN) -- The grandson of one of the Vail ski mecca's co-founders died Tuesday in an avalanche that also trapped -- temporarily -- three others, county authorities said.

Anthony "Tony" Seibert, 24, died in backcounty outside the ski boundaries of Vail Mountain -- the Colorado resort area that his grandfather, Peter Seibert Sr., co-founded -- according to officials in Eagle County.

"He was always an uplifting person and cheerful," said Scott Klumb, Seibert's friend of about 7 years who posted a tribute video online hours after his death. "...He was always goofing around or getting other people excited and just making them happy."

The three others also trapped in the snow were rescued without major injuries. In fact, none of them had to be transported to a hospital, instead leaving the area on their own, Vail Valley Medical Center spokeswoman Lindsay Hogan said.

 An avalanche Tuesday afternoon, January 7, 2014, near Vail, Colorado, trapped four people and killed at least one, a county official said.
An avalanche Tuesday afternoon, January 7, 2014, near Vail, Colorado, trapped four people and killed at least one, a county official said.
Could these avalanche airbags save lives?

The incident occurred in the East Vail Chutes roughly 90 miles west of Denver, with authorities first being alerted around 11:30 a.m., according to the Eagle County Sheriff's Office.

According to the Vail resort's master development plan, "The East Vail Chutes is an extremely steep, avalanche-prone bowl that drains down to Interstate 70 or to East Vail."

The avalanche occurred near the tree line "in backcountry wilderness where they do not have avalanche control," explained Ethan Greene of the state-run Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

"This (avalanche) was most likely triggered by the people who got caught in it," Greene said.

Two of those caught in the avalanche were on skis, the other two were on snowboards, according to Jessie Mosher of the Eagle County Sheriff's Office. She did not know what Seibert was doing.

On a scale of 1 (least dangerous) to 5, the prospective avalanche rating around Vail was a 3, the rate around which most incidents like this happen, explained Greene, especially if people get fooled by otherwise nice conditions.

"Today was apparently a beautiful day up in Vail," Greene added, "and therefore would be an appealing day to be out in the backcountry."

Seibert is the second person to die in an avalanche this season in Colorado. The other incident happened on December 31 on Parkview Mountain, west of Willow Creek Pass.

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center noted there have been at least five such fatalities nationwide, including a snowmobiler killed on New Year's Day in Big Sky, Montana.

Tony Seibert's grandfather was a legend in skiing, business and state circles, as evidenced by his inductions into the U.S. Ski and Snowboard and Colorado Business halls of fame, among many other honors.

A soldier injured multiple times during World War II while with the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division, the Sharon, Massachusetts, native moved to Colorado after the war, working at Aspen and making the 1950 U.S. ski team. After studies in resort management in France and Switzerland, he and fellow ski buff Earl Eaton scaled the top of the then-unnamed mountain that would become Vail in 1957 and opened it up as a ski area five years later.

Peter Seibert Sr. served as the first president of Vail Associates and maintained a leading role for several decades, during which time Vail became one of America's biggest and most renowned ski resorts. He died in July 2002 at the age of 77.

The Seiberts are an institution in Vail. Seibert was proud of this fact and his grandfather's legacy, recently appearing in the documentary "Climb to Glory" about the 10th Mountain Division's famed ski troopers.

"This is a shocking and terrible tragedy," Vail COO Chris Jarnot said, lamenting the end to Seibert's "wonderful albeit tragically too short life." "This is an incomprehensible loss, and we will support the Seibert family and our community through this difficult time."

Seibert himself was heading into his final semester at the University of Colorado at Boulder at the time of his death, according to Klumb. He had his deep love for the Centennial State literally imprinted on him, in the form of a lone tattoo of the Colorado state flag cast in front of the Rocky Mountains.

A superb freestyle skier, Seibert eventually gravitated toward the backcountry -- whether it was skiing, snowshoeing or hiking -- his friend said.

So what might Seibert want people to learn from his own tragic death? Klumb surmised that it's that the backcountry should both be loved and be respected.

"What Tony would want ... is for others to be careful in the backcountry," he said. "As exciting as it may look, you have to take the proper precautions."

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CNN's Ana Cabrera and Sara Weisfeldt contributed to this report.

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