Ice tunnel collapses, kills snowboarder

Published 1:01 am Tuesday, August 6, 2013

DENVER (AP) — John Backowski said he feared for his son’s life when the young man went snowboarding, cringing every time he heard about an avalanche.

Backowski said he would talk with his son after every report of a snow slide to make sure 25-year-old Collin Backowski of Pine Junction was safe.

“He would say, ‘I’m OK, Dad. It wasn’t me,”’ John Backowski said. “I think he quit telling me, ‘Don’t worry about me.’ He knew his mother and I were never going to stop worrying.”

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Collin Backowski and five of his companions were traveling on Mount Hood in Oregon when an ice tunnel collapsed Saturday, killing the young man. The friends were not hurt and tried to dig out the expert snowboarder, but the ice and snow were too thick.

Backowski was working this summer as a coach at High Cascade, a youth snowboarding camp on Mount Hood. Several of Backowski’s companions also worked at the camp, but they were off-duty when the ice collapsed, Hood River County Sheriff Matt English told The Associated Press on Monday.

The ice tunnel was on the White River Glacier, which begins about 6,000 feet up the south side of the mountain.

Sheriff’s office spokeswoman Tiffany Peterson said that after removing tons of debris by hand, searchers found the body of Collin Backowski, who had been buried by 8 to 10 feet of snow and ice.

“The area they were going into, it’s extreme, extreme terrain,” John Backowski of Denver told The Denver Post on Sunday.

John Backowski said authorities told him his son headed into the area to shoot photographs. Companions took photos of the area just before the collapse, giving searchers a better idea of where to look. Warm temperatures made snow on the mountain slushier and more easily sloughed off the surface, adding to the challenge of finding him.

Collin Backowski last spoke to his father earlier Saturday. He didn’t mention the trek.

“He knew better than to tell me he was going to do something that extreme,” John Backowski said. “He was fine. He was enjoying himself. He was loving his summer job out there and looking forward to where it led.”

High Cascade wrote on its Facebook page that the collapse happened at a location that is out-of-bounds and off-limits for campers. The camp said it is “deeply saddened by this loss” and will provide crisis counseling for staff and campers.