Thick fog shrouded the fresh powder at Snowbowl on Jan. 28, the day Jerry Leon skied out of bounds and into the backcountry of upper Grant Creek.
Outfitted in cotton long underwear and socks, and without telling friends where he was going and when to expect him back, the Canadian skier chased untrammeled turns past boundary signs into a drainage he wouldn’t leave alive.
His body was found Feb. 5 in a tree well converted into a snow shelter, a victim of hypothermia and poor communication. Leon, who survived at least one night in the backcountry, could have been rescued if anyone had known he was gone.
“We can’t start a search unless we know that somebody is missing,” Ski Patrol Director Art Wear said.
Officials were keyed in to the skier’s disappearance only after investigating a car left in the parking lot for several days. With the bar and hotel on the mountain, Wear said, it’s unrealistic to check cars each night.
Once it was determined that Leon was missing, rescuers were faced with endless backcountry and in-bounds possibilities as to his location.
“We thought maybe he was in a tree well somewhere in the area and were checking there,” Wear said.
“People usually get lost out of bounds a handful of times each year,” Wear said. “Usually it’s locals who are familiar with the area and walk out. If he had known where he was he could have walked out.”
The plod out from where Leon’s body was found would have taken five to six hours, Wear said.
Last year a man was rescued in the same region, but that rescue began immediately when friends reported him missing and he was found the next day.
“Most people try to get those turns in and don’t realize that they’ve gone too far,” said Wear, who equates every turn downhill with an hour to walk back out. Wear’s advice? “Know that you’re going into a wilderness area and things might not go like you expect.”