Durango skier survives major slide

A local backcountry skier is recovering at home after surviving a nasty ride in a large avalanche near Silverton last Saturday, Oct. 23. Mike Goessell, 31, of Durango, was hiking for turns in Velocity Basin, northwest of Silverton, when he triggered the slide. Goesell had removed his skis and was hiking up an existing, steep boot-pack when he heard the slope settle and watched the avalanche begin above him. He was skiing alone.

"I was looking uphill and heard the settle and saw it fracture and take off uphill in front of me," he said. "I went to turn around and head for some rocks and it just knocked me right on my face."

Goesell explained that the force of the avalanche was overwhelming. "I just continued tumbling, trying to swim or do whatever I could, but had no control of my body," he said. "By the time it hit me, it had already probably run about 300 feet and had picked up some serious speed."

Goesell said he couldn't see daylight until the slide stopped but that he was carried thousands of feet down the slope and over two separate cliffs that were 15 to 20 feet in height.

"I came to a stop and somehow my head and both my arms were free," he said. "I started trying to dig myself out with just my hands and it was solid as can be. I realized I had no chance without any help so I started yelling for help."

From his buried position, Goesell spotted three other skiers who had just gained the ridge on the other side of the basin. He started yelling to them, but failed to get their attention.

"I watched them ski down out of sight," Goesell said. "It was a real sinking feeling. They were the only people I could see."

However, three snowboarders he could not see heard his cries and responded. They were able to dig Goesell out, and then two of them shouldered him down the hill. A San Juan County Sheriff's vehicle met Goesell at the parking lot and an ambulance was close behind. A laceration to his elbow and a fractured rib and two fractured vertebrae were discovered at Mercy Medical Center. He will spend the next six to eight weeks in a back brace.

Goesell said that looking back, he feels fortunate. He acknowledged that skiing alone was a bad idea, but added that he is not a backcountry novice. He averages 70 days of backcountry skiing a year and had already skied five other times prior to the incident.

"I'm just very lucky to be walking around and breathing," he concluded. "I got really lucky that there was somebody there to dig me out. I made it and hopefully I can go back out again and be a lot smarter about it."

County land use revision create rift

The rules guiding development in La Plata County underwent a major revision recently. However, as the county reviews a draft document, many are concerned that the changes are being rushed through.

Nancy Lauro, La Plata County community development director, explained that the revisions are intended to improve the planning process for developers and enhance the quality of growth in the county for residents. Among other things, the revisions should help the county to require more public benefit from developments, including open space, clustering, affordable housing and amenities.

"The concern we had was that the regulations were difficult to use," Lauro said. "We wanted to improve the efficiency of the development review process and, as a result, the quality of development in La Plata County."

So far, the public has had no opportunity to comment on the draft. Many are arguing that the commissioners are trying to push its approval through and enact the new document before current commissioner Josh Joswick's term expires.

In a letter to the commissioners, Warren Holland expressed his criticism that the public has not had an opportunity to adequately review or comment on the revision. He concluded with a note specifically to Joswick that stated, "I hope you will reconsider your desire to have the Land Use Code approved by the county commissioners before your term expires.I think a new code is needed for a number of reasons, but it is not within striking distance of being a finished document - especially without a bona fide opportunity for public input."

The commissioners will hold another session to review the document on Nov. 2. However, once again, public comment will not be taken. Lauro said that the timeline rests in the commissioners' court. "The board needs to set the schedule, and I'll schedule the hearings when they set it," she said. "I'm waiting for their direction and will ask for it again during the meeting on Nov. 2."

The county is accepting written comments on the revision through Oct. 30. For more information, contact the Planning Department at 382-6263.

9-R trying to close 'achievement gap'

The Durango School District is working to close what it is calling "an achievement gap" between white and minority students. A task force is currently researching ways to get all students in the local district on level.

This fall, 9-R Superintendent Mary Barter formed a community task force of teachers, parents, administrators and other district residents to develop an action plan. The district reports that a gap exists between its minority and white students. Average CSAP test scores and graduation rates for Latino and American Indian students are lower than those of their Anglo counterparts.

According to Barter, the task force is studying the latest research on successful initiatives in other districts. It will also analyze individual student records to better understand the unique factors that support or hinder each student's success and clarify the roles that schools and parents should play.

To launch the initiative, the Board of Education hosted a series of discussions in September and early October with the district's minority students, parents and teachers. The district has also hosted four dinner meetings with adult parents and guardians, six discussion groups with students and a teacher discussion group. Participants totaled 85 adults and 78 students.

The task force will continue its work through the spring of 2005.

Durango Nature Studies gets award

Durango Nature Studies will receive an award from the Colorado Alliance for Environmental Education for its Children Discovering Nature program on Nov. 5.

Children Discovering Nature is a two-part program in which students experience and learn about local flora, fauna and habitats. The first part of the program consists of a classroom visit from a DNS lead naturalist.The week following the classroom visit, students participate in a half-day visit to the Durango Nature Center.

"We are honored to be recognized with this award in our 10th year of service to the community," said Lisa Branner, Durango Nature Studies' executive director. "It validates the work we are doing with regional schools and speaks to the fact that DNS programs are of a very high caliber."

Founded in 1994, Durango Nature Studies is an environmental-education organization dedicated to increasing awareness, knowledge and respect for the natural world.

Thousands of locals given flu vaccine

Last week, more than 2,000 residents in La Plata and Archuleta counties took advantage of what will likely be one of the only flu shot clinics of the year. Vaccine was administered to 1,400 at-risk persons in La Plata County and 675 Archuleta County residents. The single clinic is the result of a national shortage of flu vaccine.

Joe Fowler, regional epidemiologist said, "It was a tremendous effort on the part of so many people. We saw such a positive attitude among all the agencies that cooperated, and the members of the public. The people who had to wait for their shots were patient and courteous."

At the Durango clinic, nurses were giving 500 shots per hour."I was impressed," said Fowler. "The effort from the nursing staff, and all the staff and volunteers working at the clinic, was tremendous."

The San Juan Basin Health Department has scheduled two other flu clinics for high-risk individuals, which includes infants younger than 1 and seniors. These appointment only clinics will take place on Nov. 4 & 11. Call 247-5702 to make an appointment.

- compiled by Will Sands





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