PURGATORY – Dr. Jon Vivolo, an emergency room physician at Mercy Regional Medical Center, said his friend and skiing buddy Dr. Jeff Paffendorf would have been right with him Sunday making turns at Purgatory Resort.
Vivolo and 74 other skiers participated in the second annual Know the Snow Rando Race at Purgatory to raise money for the Know the Snow Fund. The fund provides scholarships for avalanche education at Silverton Avalanche School.
Paffendorf, an experienced backcountry skier, was killed Dec. 10 along with his friend Albert “Bert” Perry, after they were caught in a slide they had triggered on the north face of the Battleship area, northwest of Silverton.
Paffendorf’s and Perry’s deaths, given their knowledge of backcountry skiing, shows just how unusual and unstable the December snowpack was and how important it is for backcountry skiers to be as knowledgeable as possible about the conditions they will face.
“I skied with him all the time, and I always felt safe with him,” Vivolo said at Purgatory on Sunday after completing the 13K race at the Know the Snow event.
Vivolo said wind had blown snow from the back side of the slope where Paffendorf and Perry skied and it had all accumulated on an unstable base layer.
The Colorado Avalanche Information Center had reported that the unusual snow conditions in the San Juan Mountains in December had not been seen in years.
The Know the Snow Fund was established in 2013 after the deaths of Joe Philpott and Peter Carver in separate slides that year, said Jim Philpott, the older brother of Joe and an organizer of the Know the Snow Fund and Sunday’s fundraiser.
Nate McGrath, another organizer of Sunday’s races, said at least $2,000 was raised by the event, and that didn’t include donations made by participating skiers and fans.
Since 2013, most of the money for the Know the Snow Fund has been raised by donors. The first Know the Snow Rando Race, held last year, attracted 75 skiers.
This year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, McGrath said organizers limited the event to 75 skiers. Organizers hope to create a bigger event next year, assuming larger gatherings will be allowed.
In 2020, the Know the Snow Fund raised more than $10,000 and provided 19 scholarships for backcountry skiers to attend avalanche education courses.
Since its inception in 2013, the fund has paid for an average 15 to 20 scholarships per year.
Vivolo said: “This was a good tribute to Jeff and Bert. It will help provide backcountry education to people, and we had a good time.”