Autopsy: Grace McNeil suffocated

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Grace Lynn McNeil

— The Arapahoe Basin ski instructor who was found dead at Steamboat Ski Area last week suffocated, Routt County Coroner Rob Ryg said Monday.

Ryg said autopsy results revealed that Grace Lynn McNeil died of suffocation after falling into a tree well — an area of quicksand-like loose snow that can form at the base of evergreen trees. McNeil, who was wearing a helmet, didn’t suffer a head injury nor did she suffer any bodily injuries, leading Ryg to believe she just lost control while skiing.

“It was just impossible for her to get out of the tree well,” Ryg said. “That’s typical of those types of accidents. When you go in head first, it’s really hard to get out.”

Ryg said suffocation in deep powder can occur within minutes.

McNeil, 23, was skiing on Christmas Tree Bowl with several ski instructor friends Jan. 5 when she was separated from her group that afternoon. Steamboat Ski Patrol and Routt County Search and Rescue began looking for McNeil shortly after she went missing at about 1:30 p.m. They searched until 10:30 p.m. and resumed their efforts at 6 a.m. the following morning.

McNeil was found at 8:07 am. Jan. 6. at the base of Chute 3, a double-black-diamond run.

McNeil, a children’s ski instructor at Arapahoe Basin, was originally from Cedar, Mich. She was a graduate of Western Michigan University.

She is at least the fifth person who has died this ski season in Colorado. Two hit trees at Breckenridge, and one was buried in a tree well at Wolf Creek Ski Area. A 14-year-old girl died after hitting a tree Jan. 5 at Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort.

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