Three New Jersey men have died in the last two months in accidents on new slopes at Hunter Mountain, a popular New York destination for local skiers.
Two of the victims were from Florham Park and one from Warren. All were in their 20s.
The family of one victim, an experienced skier relatives said was wearing a helmet at the time of the crash, is calling for an investigation into safety conditions at the ski resort in the Catskill Mountains in Hunter, New York, about two hours north of the state border.
The latest fatality occurred March 9, when Robert Vrablik, 22, of Florham Park died after he lost control on Hunter’s Twilight Trail, said Trooper Steven Nevel, a spokesman for New York State Police.
Vrablik was skiing with his sister and a friend about 3 p.m. and was responsive after the fall, Nevel said. Vrablik was taken by medevac helicopter to Albany Medical Center but was declared dead at 7:18 p.m. The Greene County coroner later attributed the death to “cardiac contusion.”
Vrablik was the second skier from Florham Park to die on the Twilight Trail in 2019, and the third at Hunter Mountain in two months.
Brendan Brown-McCue, 27, was the other victim from Florham Park. He died Jan. 19, also on the Twilight Trail, according to the Greene County Sheriff’s Office.
“I can’t imagine any person, even in a corporate setting, with an ounce of empathy who wouldn’t be struggling with can they sleep at night with these trails open,” Christina Brown, mother of Brown-McCue, told the USA Today Network’s Albany Bureau.
The third victim, Edward Chu, 24, of Warren, died on Feb. 2 after he struck a tree at a high rate of speed on the Rip’s Return Trail, Nevel said. He was skiing with his brother when the accident occurred.
The new trails were part of a $9 million expansion completed last summer. Rip’s Return opened in December. The Twilight Trail opened in January.
Brown-McCue’s aunt, Christine McCue, said her nephew had just moved from Little Falls, New York, to Florham Park to start a new career. He was a graduate of Stony Brook University, where he majored in biology and co-founded the sailing team.
Brown-McCue was an experienced skier, and the Greene County Sheriff’s Office confirmed he was wearing a helmet, McCue said
Christina Brown said the resort has failed to reach out in the wake of her son’s death, and she is calling for the trails to be closed until they can be properly inspected.
“The management, ski patrol, and entire staff of Hunter Mountain are devastated by these tragedies,” Katie O’Connor, a spokeswoman for the resort, said in a statement after the third fatality. “We extend our hearts and any support we can give to the families and friends of the guests during this difficult time.”
On Tuesday, O’Connor said a Hunter Mountain representative “was in direct contact with Ms. Brown in February” and that the resort would issue “no further updates or comments on these tragic incidents at this time.”
Chu was a 2013 graduate of Watchung Hills High School and received a degree in Asian studies from Seton Hall University. He was an active member of the Rutgers Community Christian Church in Somerset, his obituary said.
The Twilight and Rip’s Return trails were both open as of Tuesday morning, according to the Hunter Mountain website. Rip’s Return is marked as “more difficult”; Twilight is marked as “more difficult (advanced).”
O’Connor previously said the resort had no plans to close any of the trails.
The New York Department of Labor provides oversight of ski resorts. Regulations include the operator’s responsibility to properly mark trails, conditions, degrees of difficulty and hazards, inspect and document trail conditions twice a day, and provide regular training to staff each season. Information on inspection records was not immediately available on Tuesday. It’s unknown if the twice-daily checks were conducted and by whom.
“I believe that the people of New Jersey need to be warned of the danger at Hunter Mountain, New York, and, further, an investigation into those trails needs to be initiated,” McCue said.
She said her nephew sustained a crushing chest wound that killed him instantly after he hit an icy patch as he tried to avoid other stopped skiers on the Twilight Trail. It “caused him, I believe, to encounter icy conditions not corrected by Hunter Mountain,” his aunt said.
Although there were no deaths at Hunter Mountain in 2018, two skiers died on the mountain in 2017, the Daily Freeman in Kingston, New York, reported.
The number of deaths highlights a safety issue at the resort, Brown said.
“I don’t think any thinking person can look at the numbers at this point and, on numbers alone, not wonder whether there’s an issue,” she said.
An average of 38 people in the United States have died annually in skiing or snowboarding accidents over the past 10 years, according to the National Ski Area Association, 37 during the 2017-18 season. Twenty-three of the 37 victims were wearing helmets, as do about 84 percent of resort visitors, association surveys show.
The NSAA launched a safety initiative in 2017, called Ride Another Day, designed to educate skiers and snowboarders about the risks of reckless skiing, speed and collisions.