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Skier dies while attempting to jump highway near Winter Park

21-year-old man was killed just west of Berthoud Pass summit
A convertible car takes a scenic drive at Berthoud Pass on March 23, 2022, near Georgetown. (Hugh Carey/The Colorado Sun file)

A21-year-old skier from Gilpin County was killed Tuesday afternoon while attempting to jump the highway over Berthoud Pass. Authorities say the man landed short, hitting the pavement.

The Grand County Sheriff’s Office said the man was killed just west of the Berthoud Pass summit, in an area known as Second Creek, at about 3 p.m.

The Grand County Coroner late Wednesday identified the skier at Dallas Lebeau.

“The preliminary investigation revealed that the victim was attempting to perform a high-risk skiing stunt by trying to clear the width of U.S. 40 and unfortunately lacked the necessary speed and distance and subsequently landed on the highway pavement,” the sheriff’s office said in a news release. “The victim had been wearing a helmet and other protective gear.”

Skiers and snowboarders build road gap jumps all over Colorado and in California, Idaho, Utah, Washington, Wyoming and British Columbia. The testing pieces for brave young athletes – they all seem to be young men – can be found just about anywhere pavement slices through steep, snowy slopes.

Ski moviemakers have been filming road-gap segments for decades and professionals love to post clips of themselves gracefully soaring over roads.

Professional skier Josh Daiek turbocharged his career in 2019 when he launched a massive back-flip over Highway 50 outside South Lake Tahoe while cameras rolled.

Loveland Pass in Colorado has a few popular spots where skiers and snowboarders frequently film themselves flipping and spinning over pavement. There’s a spot in the Vail Pass Winter Recreation Area where skiers huck themselves over the snowy Lime Creek Road. Athletes also film themselves launching road gaps on Red Mountain Pass between Silverton and Ouray. Some daredevils even leap over moving trains.

The Grand County Sheriff’s Office could not recall any incidents involving skiers trying to jump U.S. 40 on Berthoud Pass. There are questions around the legality of building a kicker in the snow and leaping over a busy roadway. There are no specific laws that prevent road-gap jumps.

Pro skier Jake Hopfinger has built road gaps all over the West, often to capture video of the lofty leaps. The videos rarely show the complicated planning and testing as he sculpts takeoffs, stomps snow on the approach and gauges the speed and trajectory needed to clear the pavement and guardrails below.

“There’s a lot that goes into it,” said the 23-year old from Bozeman, Montana. “All the road gaps are pretty much named and established jumps. People know them but you still need to be calculating and careful. It’s a lot different than your standard backcountry booter where you can go small and still land in pow.”

Hopfinger built a gap jump poorly a couple years ago in Utah and he hit it too fast and it ended up launching him too far. Road gaps are intimidating and he prefers gap jumps that cross a snowy snowmobile path, not pavement and zooming cars.

“Like anything it has a lot of consequence but you can totally do it right,” Hopfinger said. “We obviously risk a lot doing anything in skiing or snowboarding or mountain biking but there is a right way to do it. It’s all about risk management.”

The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to covering Colorado issues. To learn more, go to coloradosun.com.