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Long-time local who died in avalanche "skied everyday"

Feb 25, 2015

This vantage point is looking down the slide path. The Colorado Avalanche Information Center is investigating the fatal avalanche.
Credit Aspen Mountain Ski Patrol

The man who died in avalanche on the west side of Aspen Mountain was a long-time local who skied every day. John Martin Gancsos went by “Marty,” and had two passions: skiing and whitewater kayaking. The avalanche he was caught in Monday happened outside the ski area boundary, in an area Gancsos knew well. Aspen Public Radio’s Marci Krivonen reports.

The atmosphere at Little Annie’s Eating House Tuesday was somber. Marty Gancsos had been working night shifts at the restaurant as a favor to a friend. Rohn Fleming owns Little Annie’s and asked Gancsos to jump on board.

"Marty had just come to work for me. I needed help and he was bussing tables, expediting and whatever I needed. He was a big help to me. We were a little short-handed."

Fleming’s friendship with Gancsos stretched back three decades. The two were the same age - 64 - and skied together frequently.

"We skied everything together. He was just a nice human being. We became instant friends. He was just a very good friend, an extremely good friend."

Fleming says just about everyone on Aspen Mountain knew Gancsos. He was admired for his skill on skis and in a kayak. He ran his own painting company and worked as a property manager for a building on West Main. A tenant there says his attitude was the greatest and he will be deeply missed.

Gancsos was skiing Ophir Gulch in the Keno Gulch area when the slide happened. The skier he was with was unhurt and called authorities. A Mountain Rescue Aspen team later recovered the body.

Pitkin County Sheriff’s Deputy Hugh Zucker helped with the recovery. He says conditions were dangerous and skiers reported recent slides nearby.

"Other slides had been observed on both sides of Richmond Ridge. The guys who were out on the recovery said that there were patches of snow that were weak and breakable and slid easily."

Despite the danger, Gancsos skied the Gulch, possibly because he was familiar with it. 

"Unfortunately, these areas get skied a lot," says Zucker. "There’s a problem with anyone who skis an area a lot because they get comfortable with it. The sensation of comfort you feel is a mismatch to the level of actual risk."

Gancsos’ death marks the third avalanche fatality in Colorado this season. The others happened near the Eisenhower Tunnel, west of Georgetown and in the San Juan Mountains near Silverton.

After a dry start to the year, Scott Toepfer with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, says people are hungry for powder.

"There are a lot of people, I don’t want to say addicted to powder riding in Colorado’s backcountry, but, there’s been a dearth of it for the last couple months. So, there’s going to be a desire for people to go out into our backcountry as the snow starts to build up."

On Tuesday, avalanche conditions across Colorado’s mountains were listed as “considerable,” the third level on a five-category scale. More snow is in the forecast, so Toepfur advises caution. He says conditions are ripe.

"The snowpack has remained typically Colorado-ish in that the lower basil layers of the snowpack have a very weak structure, so when we start to see this return to winter with more wind, snow and cold temperatures, I think we’ll start to see more encounters with avalanches," he says.

Colorado is the most dangerous avalanche state in the country. Typically, the state sees six fatalities per season.

Back at Little Annie’s in downtown Aspen. Friend and ski partner Rohn Fleming remembers Marty Gancsos’ amazing determination.

"Two years ago he broke both legs and the next season he was skiing again. He had a passion for the sport. It was his life."