5 skiers survive subzero Colo. ordeal

February 24, 1993|By Dirk Johnson | Dirk Johnson,New York Times News Service

DENVER -- In a remarkable feat of survival, the five cross-country skiers missing in the Rocky Mountains through four nights of subzero temperatures were found alive and relatively healthy yesterday.

Two of the skiers, Ken Torp of Conifer, Colo., and Elliot Brown of Golden, Colo., walked into a remote trading post about 30 miles south of Aspen about noon and used a pay telephone to tell their families and the authorities that they were fine.

A few hours later, the other three skiers, Dee Dubin, her husband, Rob Dubin, and Brigitte Schluger, all of Denver, were plucked by an Army helicopter from a wooded wilderness in the back country 15 miles south of Aspen. The rescuers used an infrared device to detect the skiers as they apparently were trying to make their way back to where they had started.

Ms. Schluger, 50, an art gallery owner, and Mrs. Dubin, 40, who with her 38-year-old husband owns a video production business, were being treated for frostbite at the Aspen Valley Hospital, but a spokeswoman said they were not badly hurt.

When word spread that the skiers had been found, the bells at St. Mary's Church in Aspen chimed, and motorists in Aspen honked car horns and flashed thumbs-up signs to each another.

"You can imagine how relieved we are," said Tom McCabe, a supervisor of the search. "We don't know how they did it."

Search officials had said Monday night that the skiers, who began their skiing journey Friday, had less than a 10 percent chance of survival. Temperatures in the mountains plunged below zero at night while the five were missing.

Mr. Torp, 50, chief of staff for Richard Lamm when Mr. Lamm was Colorado's governor, said he never doubted that he and the others would reach safety. Mr. Torp and Mr. Brown have extensive mountaineering experience.

"It was just a question of how ugly and how nasty and how difficult and how many fingers were going to freeze," Mr. Torp said in an interview televised here.

Mr. Torp and Mr. Brown, a 43-year-old metallurgist, said they spent one night in an empty forest ranger station in the back country and the other nights in the open, huddling together for warmth. They ate snow to try to stave off dehydration.

Authorities did not say what the skiers did for nourishment, but since they had set out on a back-country camping expedition, they presumably had some food with them.

During a snowstorm Saturday, Mr. Torp and Mr. Brown told the other three that they would ski down a path and that if they did not return, the others should follow.

Instead, the other three skiers attempted to retrace their steps to Ashcroft, a tiny town about 10 miles south of Aspen where the back-country skiing journey had begun Friday.

At one point, Mr. Brown said, he fell into a pond, drenching his gloves and boots. "I was really worried," he said.

He and Mr. Torp crossed 11,000-foot Taylor Pass, then found the watershed of the Taylor River, which they followed down toward Taylor Park. As they approached the community, about 15 miles southeast of where they had last seen by companions Saturday, they heard the noise of barking they said.

Mr. Torp said he exclaimed, "Dogs! There must be people around here."

As they trekked over a frozen pond, they could see the trading post. "Let me tell you, it was great to see those guys," Mr. Torp said.

Janet Cranor, a Taylor Park resident, said, "It was kind of a surprise to see some unfamiliar faces around our area, because we know no one could get in or get out," the Associated Press reported.

The skiers were rescued just ahead of a storm that was expected to dump as much as a foot of snow in the mountains.

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