December 23, 1997 in Nation/World

Snowboarder In Critical Condition Light Snow May Have Concealed Exposed Rock On Slope

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Snow falling at Schweitzer Mountain Resort may have helped conceal a rock that tripped snowboarder Aaron Culpepper, his brother said Monday.

Culpepper rode over a rock on his second run Saturday morning at the Sandpoint resort and tumbled head-first into another rock. The 23-year-old Coeur d’Alene man was listed in critical condition Monday at Kootenai Medical Center in Coeur d’Alene with head, back and chest injuries.

Mountain groomers and the ski patrol had marked most of the hazards, leaving only the obvious ones exposed, said Kevin Culpepper. He was up the hill from his brother when the accident occurred and said he suspects a light dusting of snow hid the rock from view.

“It was just a freak thing,” Kevin Culpepper said. “There was a lot of exposed stuff up there - trees and rocks.”

Friends and family members waited anxiously Monday in the intensive care unit for signs of improvement. Culpepper’s family is keeping a notebook of messages from well-wishers and plans to read them to him.

“The next couple of days are going to make the difference,” Kevin Culpepper said.

The Culpepper brothers were snowboarding with two others on the upper portion of Kaniksu run when Aaron fell. He was taken off the mountain by the ski patrol, transferred to an ambulance and flown to Coeur d’Alene.

“I dreaded this kind of thing all my life,” said Culpepper’s father, Jim, an Idaho State Police corporal.

Normally, rocks are covered by plenty of snow by this time of the year. But only light early snowfall this year forced the resort to scrape snow from parking lots and roadsides to build a significant base. Snow-making machines also were used on a beginner run.

Creative snow-making techniques were not used on the high-altitude runs, including Kaniksu, said Schweitzer General Manager Peter Gillis. Because of their steep grades and high altitudes those runs must be covered by natural snowfall.

While the lower portion of Kaniksu opened Dec. 12, Saturday marked the opening of the upper portion. The run was closed following the accident because of poor visibility, but since has re-opened, Gillis said.

“It was in good shape,” Gillis said. “It’s an area on the mountain, like an area on many mountains, where the terrain is for advanced-level skiers.”

Relatives said Culpepper has been snowboarding for several years. He became serious about the sport three years ago.

His family praised the quick response from the ski patrol and others Schweitzer workers.

“They did a fantastic job,” Kevin Culpepper said. “You can’t thank those guys enough for at least giving us this chance.”

Aaron Culpepper has no medical insurance. Family members have set up an account to help offset medical costs.

His injuries include major head trauma, a broken back and a collapsed lung. Family members also were told Monday evening that Culpepper is paralyzed from the waist down. “The rest of the injuries are workable, but the head trauma is what we’re waiting for,” said sister-in-law Karen Culpepper. “We’re just praying.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo

MEMO: Cut in Spokane edition

This sidebar appeared with the story:

Donations can be made to a fund to help pay Aaron Culpepper’s medical bills at any Wells Fargo Bank branch. Money should be deposited in account number 0426290581.

Cut in Spokane edition

This sidebar appeared with the story: Donations can be made to a fund to help pay Aaron Culpepper’s medical bills at any Wells Fargo Bank branch. Money should be deposited in account number 0426290581.

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