HUNTER — Christina Brown lost her only child to a skiing accident on Hunter Mountain last month.
Today, the grieving mother is trying make sense of the tragedy, set the record straight about her son’s death and bring awareness to the potential dangers of Hunter’s new trails.
Brendan Brown-McCue, 27, of Little Falls, died Jan. 19 after a skiing accident on Twilight Trail at Hunter. Twilight Trail opened Dec. 24, with eight other trails as part of Hunter North, a $9 million expansion. The project also included a six-person high speed detachable lift.
About two weeks later, Edward Chu, 24, of Warren, New Jersey, died in a second accident at Hunter on Feb. 2, on another new trail called Rip’s Return, state police Press Information Officer Steven Nevel said.
“I think if he [Brown-McCue] really knew the risk Hunter presented to people, I’m not sure that he would have gone,” Brown said.
On average, 41.5 people died from ski-related injuries in the United States from 2002-2012, according to the most recent data compiled by the National Ski Area Association.
But with two deaths in the space of two weeks, Brown finds Hunter’s statistics alarming by comparison.
After an internal investigation of the accidents, Hunter Mountain officials do not think the trails are to blame, Hunter Mountain Marketing Coordinator Katie O’Connor said.
“We are concerned any time a guest sustains any injury, regardless of where it occurs,” O’Connor said. “We don’t believe the trail configurations were a factor [in the fatalities].”
Brown-McCue and his three companions found the conditions to be deteriorating that day on Twilight, Brown said.
“They had already been down four to six times,” she said. “On the last run, they said it was very icy and they were patches with no snow.”
The accident did not indicate a lack of ability or preparedness, Brown said.
“Brendan had been skiing since he was four years old,” she said. “He was an avid outdoorsman. He went down several double black diamonds that day.”
Double black diamonds signify the most difficult ski slopes and should be skied by experts only, according to Outdoor Tech, a website that lists a ski slope rating symbol guide. They may have obstacles like cliffs or trees and conditions may vary.
In addition to skiing, Brown-McCue also enjoyed hiking, sailing, backpacking and rock climbing, Brown said.
“He always took the risk very seriously and wore the proper gear,” she said.
Initial statements from police to Columbia-Greene Media indicated uncertainty about whether Brown-McCue was wearing a helmet.
“He was wearing a helmet,” Greene County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Adam Brainard confirmed Monday.
Hunter Mountain’s Director of Risk Management Bill Snyder concurred.
Chu was also wearing a helmet, Nevel said.
Brown is distressed by the implication the coverage made about her son.
“He was absolutely wearing a helmet,” she said. “That’s how they IDed him. The ski patrol asked his friends what color his helmet was. It was gray with flames.”
State police believe Chu lost control prior to his accident, Nevel said.
“He was traveling at a high rate of speed and lost control and struck a tree,” Nevel said. “Greene County paramedics and Hunter Ambulance attempted life saving measures with negative results.”
Brown-McCue’s friends from near and far have been mourning the loss, Brown said.
“He was a wonderful young man and he left a big hole in the world for us,” she said.