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Backcountry Boarders Facing Nearly $170K In Damages Take Plea Deal

At a near 45-degree angle, a snow-covered mountain slope takes up most of the image, excluding the gray sky in the upper right corner. Near the top center is the small, dark figure of a snowboarder near a few rocks. He stands a bit above a section where snow clearly broke away in an avalanche. That area is a big shelf of snow cutting mostly horizontally across the center of the photo, and snow below it is several inches shallower.
Colorado Avalanche Information Center
Colorado Avalanche Information Center
An image of the March 2020 avalanche taken by one of the snowboarders responsible for triggering it, who's now facing reckless endangerment charges.

A case that drew the attention of backcountry recreators across the Mountain West has come to a close.

Evan Hannibal and Tyler Dewitt set off a backcountry avalanche in Colorado more than a year ago. That slide covered a service road and destroyed an avalanche mitigation device.

They were then charged with reckless endangerment, and prosecutors planned to use the snowboarders' own camera footage that they gave to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. That alarmed some backcountry experts, who thought this kind of prosecution might discourage backcountry recreators from reporting avalanches, which could have deadly consequences.

Summit County District Attorney Heidi McCollum argued that wasn’t the case since the charges were specific to these men in that area, and instead went ahead with the charges and sought $168,000 in damages.

A recent plea deal cut that down drastically, though, to 20 hours of community service and a year of unsupervised probation. Attorney Jason Flores-Williams says the two just wanted to get on with their lives. Once they didn’t have to worry about owing thousands of dollars, they decided to end it.

“Having come to a reasonable place, it was just time to say, ‘OK, let’s do it. Let’s just get this off of everybody’s plates and move forward,” he said.

The case was set to go to trial in March, but not enough jurors showed, infuriating all sides.

Flores-Williams said he wants to keep defending people’s rights to use the backcountry going forward, he just hopes people get the right training. That’s something he argues his clients had already done, but he fears others haven’t.

“In a real, honest and fair way, maybe this is good,” he said. “It just says to people, ‘OK, you’re going to ride in the backcountry? It’s a serious thing.’”

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Madelyn Beck was Boise State Public Radio's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau.

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