Avalanche takes man's life

Steamboat resident Paul Maniaci dies while skiing in Wyoming


In memory

In lieu of flowers, people are asked to please send donations in memory of Paul Maniaci to benefit search and rescue teams in Teton County, Idaho; Teton County, Wyo.; and the Gunnison area. People can make checks payable to the Paul Maniaci Memorial Fund and send them to Wells Fargo Bank at PO Box 774888, Steamboat Springs, CO 80477.

A memorial service will be held in Gunnison in a couple weeks, but Paul's wife Jessica Maniaci, also known as Jessica Gray, and her family will be returning home for an open house from 5 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at the home of Nancy and Gary Gray at 48 Maple St. All who want to remember Paul are welcome to attend.


Courtesy Photo

Paul Maniaci

Paul Maniaci was an experienced backcountry skier equipped with the necessary avalanche equipment Saturday, but preparation could not save his life.

Buried beneath four feet of snow after fracturing his neck in an estimated 1,500-foot avalanche slide near the Jackson Hole, Wyo., area, Maniaci, 24, was pronounced dead at 6:05 p.m. Saturday by search and rescue units after not responding to any life saving measures, said Sgt. Kelly Wells with the Teton County Sheriff's Office.

Maniaci, a teacher with the Yampa Valley High School, the county's alternative school, and the Steamboat Springs School District, would have turned 25 on Sunday.

Paul was skiing with his dog Mica and his brother Pete Maniaci on a southwest-facing slope near the Wind Caves in Darby Canyon when Pete felt the snow beneath his feet settle.

The slope fractured about 10 yards above Pete. Paul was standing about 20 yards below his brother, the Teton County Sheriff's Office said in a press release.

Both men, who were traveling up the mountain toward the summit, were swept down the ravine by the avalanche, Wells said.

Avalanche danger in the area was low in the morning, but the Bridger-Teton National Forest Avalanche Center, which estimated the length of the avalanche slide at 1,500 feet, changed the danger to moderate by late afternoon because of warm temperatures, Wells said.

Once the avalanche stopped, Pete was able to free himself from the snow and skied down the mountain to search for Paul using an avalanche beacon.

Pete located his brother at approximately 5:10 p.m., nearly 10 minutes after the avalanche was reported, but Paul was not breathing and a pulse was not detected, the press release said.

Pete performed CPR until search and rescue units from Teton County in Wyoming and Teton County in Idaho arrived on scene.

Wells said the area where the Maniacis were skiing is close to the Idaho border, so it's a popular backcountry spot for Idaho residents.

Pete lives in Driggs, Idaho, where Paul's wife, known by many in Steamboat Springs as Jessica Gray, was gathered with their families Tuesday.

Jessica, a Nordic ski coach with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, had been skiing with Paul and Pete earlier Saturday, but had returned to their vehicle. She was at the vehicle when she was told what had happened by Pete's girlfriend, who reported the avalanche to the Teton County Sheriff's Office in Wyoming.

Due to the high avalanche danger, difficult terrain and safety issues of operating the helicopter in the darkness, search and rescue units were unable to recover Paul's body until Sunday, Wells said.

"Members of search and rescue stayed with the body overnight," Wells said. "Sometimes because of the conditions it's the safest way to do it."

Mica, Paul and Jessica's dog, also spent the night with Paul's body.

"They had trouble getting the dog from the scene," Wells said. "My heart goes out to the family."

Teton County Coroner Bob Campbell ruled cause of death as trauma and suffocation.


davin_anderson 10 years, 2 months ago

Paul and I became friends during our freshman year at Air Academy high school. We ran cross country and track together and I was lucky enough to become one of his close friends. Paul came from less than ideal circumstances. While everyone else was out parting and wasting away their high school, Paul was working nearly 40 hours a week and volunteering his time. He became the president of a space club for kids his senior year of high school. With all of the hardships that he endured in his high school years I cannot recall him complaining once. He would just smile and keep going. During that he didn't even skimp on his school work. He graduated with good enough credentials to win the governors scholarship which provided him a full ride scholarship to Western.

Paul was a teacher by nature. He was always teaching me something. Paul was the first person to take me climbing outside (Garden of the Gods). Paul and I climbed numerous times. We climbed all of the difficult 14ers together (The Crestones, The Maroon Bells, Pyramid, Capital) as well as numerous other ones. I remember one time we were climbing the Ellingwood Arete on Crestone Needle. We had made it a couple of pitches up when we got to this really large shelf. I took off my backpack and placed it on the shelf. I was messing with the rope and inadvertently knocked off the pack. It finally stopped 1500' below us. Paul's boots were in the pack. He walked off the mountain bare footed without a single complaint. He razzed me a little bit, but all in good fun. In all of our climbs Paul did everything by the books. He was the safest climber I knew; he was always teaching me safety. During college he became a member of the WSU Search and Rescue team and once again became the president. He was always teaching me about anchors and how to make them safer and more redundant. During our winter climbs and adventures Paul taught me a lot about avalanches. He was very experienced. He would never have gone up there that day if he didn't think that it was safe. This situation was a complete accident with a higher power controlling every aspect of the day. Paul was not only a great teacher but a great skier. I was fortunate to have seen Paul two weeks before he died. He wanted me to come up to Steamboat and learn how to telemark ski. It was so beautiful to watch him float down the mountain. It looked as if he had been doing it his entire life. He would go strait down the steepest of slops turning back and forth so effortlessly. I would follow him, but my skis where not pointed down the hill and I was still moving. He was that good.

I could never quantify how big of an impact he has had on my life. He had lived and experienced more in his 24 years than most will do in a lifetime. If everyone would follow his role, this world would be without depression, killing, and hatred, and full of life, love and happiness. My hat is off to you Paul.

You're Friend, Davin


mtnmiahar 10 years, 2 months ago

My heart dropped when my friend and teammate Scott Murrell told me of Paul's passing early monday morning. I had known Paul better than most. I first met Paul my freshman year at Western State. Paul was in my mountain bike class as well as the president of the WSC Adventure Race Club. Paul and I built a friendship that included many epic training days all over Colorado and Utah. A year later Paul gave me call to tell me that he was back in Gunnison and that he wanted to start his own adventure race team. I quickly jumped on board. That year in 2005 our team Honey Stinger/Princeton-Tec won the four person coed division in the Adventure Extream Series. Paul and I were roomates for a year and I remember the day that I first met his dog Mica. This dog could run flat out for 20 miles while chasing us on our mountain bikes. I also remember the day that Paul and Jess rekindled there friendship. It was like fire works between the two. They were definately in love. There engagement was no suprise to me even though they had only been seeing eachother for 3 months. Paul and Jess helped me through allot of emotional issues that I was facing in my life. Paul's love of teaching showed in his work at the Gunnison Alternative High School. From time to time he asked me to help him with there climbing program. Paul even took one of his troubled students with our team to Adventure Race Nationals in Tampa, FL. Paul was an amazing spirit who loved to run wild through the vast landscapes of Colrado. I feel honored to have known Paul as a roommate, teammate and most of all a friend. His loss will be felt in the communities of Gunnison and Steamboat Springs. Thanks Paul and Jess for all that you have given me.

Your Friend,

Jeremiah John Reiner


ElBorracho 10 years, 2 months ago

Deepest sympathies to the whole Gray family. This is tragic news.


ihatestupidpeople 10 years, 2 months ago

WOW this sounds like and amazing guy that loved the outdoors and what it has to offer i know of jess through her sister becca i went to school with her god bless


obskibum 10 years, 2 months ago

I remember talking with Paul just a few weeks ago. We talked a bit about his new teaching positon at the Yampa Valley High School. We also discussed the dificulties he faced in such a position because it was sometimes hard to affect change. But listening to him, I got the impression that his enthusiasm was not about to be deterred. In hearing about the loss of Paul, my thoughts somehow went back to that brief conversation. And now I realize how passionate he was and how much he really hoped to make a difference in the kids' lives.

I was fortunate to meet Paul through Jessica, whom I've know for at least 15 years now. We met at an engagement party last year to announce their upcoming marriage. They always seemed to be a very special couple and, having known Jessica for a very long time, I was so happy that she had met what seemd to be her soulmate.

It's very difficult to express feelings about a sudden and completely unexpected loss such as Paul's. For me personally, I'll have to wait until the numbness wears off because I'm still in denial about him not being here anymore. But as a part of the Steamboat community, I have to say that it is very devastating because we've lost one of our future leaders. He brought so much life and vibrance to our community.

My deepset sympathies go out to Jessica, the Gray and Maniaci families who have lost a loved one; the kids who have lost a mentor; and the community who has lost a cherished friend.

Ollie Ballard


dnmco 10 years, 2 months ago

I became friends with Paul sophomore year at Western State College in Gunnison Coloroado. Looking back and remembering times that we spent together I can't remember a time that wasn't overflowing with happiness. Paul had a natural respect for the outdoors and nature that I will forever envy, he always seemed so at ease, calm and exactly where he belonged. Paul was an amazing teacher, from the day I met him he was always teaching me something. From my first mountain bike ride at Hartmans, clipping in and out of clipless pedals in my front yard, lead climbing in penatente to truly believeing in myself and my dreams. Myself a ski instructor, I watched in awe as he taught students from the Gunnison Alternative School to tele. The relationships that Paul built and kept with the people he taught are indescribable, he had a way of bonding with people that made them feel overcome with comfort. Paul was always there for me, and I'm sure all of his friends. I never heard him complain and never remember seeing him frown. He always had a way of looking at the bright side of every situation. Thank you Paul for making this world a better place, for putting brightness and fun in everyday that I got to spend with you and for sharing your enthusiasm for life with everyone you met. You've touched more people in your 24 years than most people will in their entire lives. Not a single Hartmans ride will go by without a smile to remember you by. Thank you for everything, you truly are an amazing person, friend and idol. You're Friend. Dena


k2830 10 years, 2 months ago

As I was running on one of my favorite trails this morning I was lost in thought of how Paul was the one who showed me this trail as we were training for the 2005 adventure racing sesaon. He had such a dynamic personality and could always make me laugh, even when I was suffering through a 24 hour race. If it wasn't for his desire to create our adventure team I would have never gotten into the sport that I've grown to love, nor would I have met the my awesome teammates. So thanks Paul, we'll all miss you greatly. My sympathy to Jess, her family and the Maniacis. Keri Nelson


ag27 10 years, 2 months ago

I had class with Paul at Western, and I remember how much fun we all used to have. He would always be around the rock room with that Paul grin. I always used to wonder how he kept up the energy to do everything he was doing at the time, with college, the school, mountain rescue, and all of his sports. I will never forget stepping off the stage after graduating from Western and Paul was also in the commencement ceremony, right down at the end of the stage, and how happy he was and how huge he smiled when I was stoked when I saw him with my diploma. I was pretty sad to hear what happened. I just thought I would run into him at the geology reunions. I wish his adventurous soul strength during his transition. My deepest condolencences to his family. See you next time Paul!!! Keep smiling!!!
Alantha Garrison


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