Death Toll Rises With New Hunter Mountain Trails

A string of deaths on Hunter Mountain Ski Resort’s newest trails highlight unsuspecting perils for potential patrons. 

The details of these tragic losses were obtained by The Poughkeepsie Journal and The Daily Record

Between January and early March, three skiiers lost their lives on the newly developed Hunter North portion of the mountain, which opened in December of 2018. These fatal accidents occurred on two of the new trails —“Twilight Trail” and “Rips Return Trail”— which branch off from the pre-existing “Way Out” and “Belt Parkway” trails.  Despite the deaths, these trails continue to remain in use.

Most recently, Robert Vrablik, 22, of Florham, New Jersey, died of a cardiac contusion on March 9 while skiing with his sister and a friend. Edward Chu, 24, of Warren, New Jersey, struck a tree at high speed while skiing with his brother on “Rip’s Return Trail.” Lastly, Brendan Brown-McCue, 27, of Little Falls in Herkimer County hit a patch of ice while skiing with a group of friends and died of a chest wound. His death occurred only a week after “Twilight Trail” opened. State police and family members described Vrablik and Brown-McCue as highly experienced skiers. 

The National Ski Areas Association “Skier/Snowboard Fatality Incidents” statistics report 37 fatalities between 2017 and 2018. The bulk of these deaths resulted from collisions with other skiers, trees or manmade objects. While there were no reported deaths at Hunter Mountain last year, two deaths were recorded in 2017 according to The Daily Freeman.   

Hunter Mountain is owned by Peak Resorts and is located at the edge of Tannersville, New York. The $9 million expansion plan began in April of 2018 according to The Daily Freeman. In addition to the aforementioned trails, the project included seven additional trails, a six person lift called “Northern Express” and a brand new 250-car parking lot at the base. Hunter Mountain’s website describes the new trails as “predominantly intermediate terrain,” although some patrons argue otherwise.  

“I’ve really enjoyed the new trails so far, but I feel like they really should be labeled as black or double-black diamonds,” said fourth-year business management major Andrew Hanchar, who has skied for the past eight years.

One patron criticized the design of the trails, arguing that it could potentially lead inexperienced skiers to paths they are not prepared for. While trails on the opposite side of the mountain steadily decrease in difficulty from the summit, most paths on Hunter North are meant for experienced skiers. 

“There is a lot of confusion getting through,” said undecided second-year student Nicholas Giordano who has snowboarded for the past 15 years. “Their trails merge with little warning, few signs and sudden changes in difficulty.” 

After snowboarding on March 27, Giordano claims that some of the trails were icy and not groomed well.

“If they’re trying to attract new riders, there should be more safety features,” said fourth-year geography major and lifelong snowboarder Gabriel Karcher. “I think that they rushed that part of the mountain to get it up and running.”

Karcher felt that the new parking lot’s close proximity to Northern Express may attract patrons who are unfamiliar with the mountain. He noted that the Hunter North trails seemed narrower than most other trails and lacked fencing to keep patrons from flying into the woods. 

In response to the past incidents, Hunter Mountain released this statement: “The Management, Ski Patrol and entire staff of Hunter Mountain are devastated by these tragedies. We extend our hearts and any support we can give to the families and friends of the guests during this extremely difficult time.”

Max Freebern
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Max Freebern is a fourth-year journalism major who’s going into his fifth semester working for Oracle. He worked his way from a contributor, to copy editor and has served as the News editor for the past few semester. While he normally focuses on local government his true passion is writing immersive work and human profiles.