Sanctuaries in the Snow

The Adam Dennis Shrine (Aspen Mountain)

Adam Dennis died on April 4, 2011. The Aspen Daily News published his obituary on April 7, 2011 at

Adam Brady Dennis 1972 — 2011. Adam Brady Dennis, 38, of Aspen Colo., beloved son of David E. Dennis and Carol Scott Dennis, died on Monday, April 4, 2011 in an avalanche in an area called Desolation Row, between Maroon Bowl and Tonar Bowl in the Aspen Highlands backcountry. Adam was an Aspen area resident for 14 years, working as a professional photographer and guest services manager at some of the area’s most prominent hotels. A widely-known and much-loved member of the community, Adam was an avid outdoor enthusiast who made the most of the Roaring Fork Valley. One of life’s “connectors,” Adam had the ability to bring people together in friendship. No where was that more evident than his unique and inspiring passion for music and his deep love of sharing it with others. He truly was the bond for so many people. Adam’s passion created a vast network of friends who were more than happy to join him in his dance through life. His loss will be felt deeply by the many people whose lives he touched. Adam’s kindness and enthusiasm for life were infectious, and his last moments were spent doing what he loved most. Adam was born in Anaheim, Calif. on July 11, 1972, and graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School in Denver, Colo., where he was an All-State Lacrosse player and member of the 1990 State Championship football team. Adam attended the University of Delaware, and graduated from Metro State College Denver with a degree in photojournalism. In addition to his parents, Adam is survived by older brother Mark (Sarah) Dennis and younger sister Sarah (Dustin) Andrews, along with three nephews and thousands of well-wishing friends. A memorial service will be held at the Sundeck on Aspen Mountain, April 9. The gondola upload will begin at 5 p.m., with the service beginning at 5:30 p.m. Downloading will begin after the service and will end at 7:30 p.m. An additional service will be held in Denver at another date. Memorial donations may be made in memory of Adam Brady Dennis to Mountain Rescue Aspen (MRA) for the Education and Backcountry Safety Program, 630 West Main St., Aspen, Colo., 81611;

A shrine was established for him on Aspen Mountain by friends and family on April 11, 2011.  Several items in the shrine relate to the popular band Widespread Panic.  Photos of the shrine are below.  If you have any information about or photos of this item that you would like to share for use on this page, please send to [email protected].  In addition to all the photos shown below, see the author's Facebook photo album of this shrine here (you do not need to have a Facebook account in order to view the album):

The photo immediately below, by Carolyn Sackariason/Aspen Daily News, was run in the April 12, 2011 issue of the paper, with this caption:  "A new shrine was erected Monday on Aspen Mountain by the family and friends of local Adam Dennis, who died in an avalanche last week.  Z.G. was there." 

Click on the image to enlarge.

Thanks to Rocky Kroeger for permission to use the photo below, which he took the day the shrine was created.  Click on the image to enlarge.

Thanks to Carolyn Sackariason  for permission to use the photo below, which was taken the day the shrine was created.  Click on the image to enlarge.

Many thanks to Kristi M. Kavanaugh for sending the author this link to a video that was shot the day the shrine was created:

See this April 13, 2011 article by Scott Condon, "Avalanche center report sheds light on fatal avalanche near Aspen,"  This article is set out in full below.


See this page on the Aspen Spin web site: "Adam Dennis R.I.P."

See this letter to the editor ("Thank you from the Dennis family") that appeared in the Aspen Daily News issue of Saturday, May 7, 2011:

See this Snowmass Sun newspaper article of March 7, 2012 by David Wood, "Three Aspen Mountain shrines dedicated to locals" which is set out in full below at the bottom of this page.




The photos in the section below were taken by the author in July 2011.

Click on images to enlarge.


This RAD sticker used to be on a laptop at the bell stand at the Viceroy Hotel in Snowmass Village, where Adam used to work.

Click on image to enlarge.


The item below appeared in the Aspen Daily News issue of April 4, 2012 (the one-year anniversary of his death).  The line, "We hope that the band is playing your favorite song in a place where nothing, nothing ever happens" refers to the lyrics to a Talking Heads song covered by Widespread Panic called "Heaven."  Adam was a huge Panic fan, the lyric from that song is as follows:  "Oh! Heaven.  It is a place, a place where nothing, nothing ever happens."

Click on image to enlarge.


See the photo below of Widespread Panic's Dave Schools holding a RAD sticker (Kristi Kavanaugh is on the left and Sarah Andrews on the right).  Photo credit Sarah Andrews. Photo taken in Reno, NV on July 11, 2011. Widespread Panic played in Reno that night, and July 11 is also Adam's birthday.  Click on image to enlarge.

Avalanche center report sheds light on fatal avalanche near Aspen

April 13, 2011

Scott Condon

Aspen CO Colorado


Janet Urquhart / Aspen Times fileMountain Rescue Aspen members retrieve Adam Dennis' body on April 5, after he was killed in an avalanche near Aspen on April 4. The slide run-out is visible above the team.

ASPEN – An Aspen man’s passion for photography might have placed him in a position where he was susceptible to a fatal avalanche near Aspen Highlands on April 4, according to an accident report prepared by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

Adam Dennis got “very close” to the skier in front of him during a traverse to try to shoot some video of the person, the CAIC report said. The skier in front of him, identified as “skier number 4,” triggered the avalanche. Dennis, the fifth in the single-file line of skiers, got buried by the snow slide and was killed.

“One contributing factor to this accident was the lack of distance between the 4th and 5th skiers during their traverse,” the report said.



The report was filed Sunday by Brian McCall, a forecaster for CAIC, who visited the avalanche site April 5 while Mountain Rescue Aspen recovered the body. McCall also interviewed survivors.

CAIC assesses avalanche risk for the public throughout the winter, and it writes reports on fatal accidents and close calls. The reports recite the weather conditions before and during accidents, snowpack conditions, events leading to the avalanche and an accident summary. CAIC doesn’t judge the victims’ actions.

McCall’s report said Dennis and the other four skiers in his group met early on the morning of April 4, rode chairlifts to the top of Aspen Highlands ski area, then hiked out on the ridge also used to access Highland Bowl. The group skied a line known as Green Trees in Maroon Bowl, on the west side of Highlands Ridge. After the first lap, they rode back up the chairlifts at Highlands for another run outside the ski area that afternoon. At about 1:15 p.m. they went into an area known as Desolation Row, one bowl south of Maroon Bowl. Desolation Row provides about 4,000 vertical feet of skiing from the Highlands Peak ridge line to the Maroon Creek Valley floor.

“They spaced out and skied one at a time for several short pitches down this initial section,” the CAIC report said. “As the group reached treeline elevations, they made a traverse to the skiers [sic] left side of the bowl into northwest facing terrain. On this traverse, the group again moved one at a time.

“The fourth skier moved quickly across this traverse and near the end of it, triggered a slab avalanche from a shallow spot in the snowpack,” the report continued.

The crown face of the avalanche was only 6 to 8 inches deep, McCall wrote, but it ran across the slope and became much deeper.

“Skier number 5 [Dennis], towards the end of this traverse, got very close to the 4th skier in an effort to shoot some video with a camera he carried,” the report said. “He was caught in and killed by the avalanche that was triggered just in front of him.”

The close proximity of Dennis and the skier in front of him was the only contributing factor listed in the report.

Dennis, 38, was the sixth person killed in an avalanche in Colorado this winter and the second in the Aspen-Snowmass Village area. He was an avid outdoorsman as well as a professional photographer. He worked in the hospitality industry and had his own photography business. He specialized in outdoor adventure and sports shots.

The CAIC report, which is on the organization’s website, said the four skiers with Dennis “performed a rapid and efficient search for their buried partner.” They descended the steep terrain within about 15 to 20 minutes, then used their avalanche beacons to locate Dennis and started performing CPR within an additional six minutes. They decided they couldn’t revive Dennis after performing CPR for about 45 minutes.

Avalanche conditions were too dangerous for Mountain Rescue to send in a team the afternoon of April 4. Dennis’ body was recovered early the next morning by a Mountain Rescue ground team.



Below is the article by David Wood about the Adam Dennis Shrine that appeared in the Snowmass Sun newspaper.


Three Aspen Mountain shrines dedicated to locals




Not all the shrines on Aspen Mountain are dedicated to famous people, such as the shrines to Jerry Garcia, Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Michael Houser, Jimi Hendrix, and John Denver. There are also some shrines dedicated to locals such as Adam Dennis, John Nicoletta and Raoul Wille.



Adam Dennis

Adam Dennis died on April 4, 2011. at the age of 38, when he was caught in an avalanche in the Desolation Row area, between Maroon and Tonar bowls in the Aspen Highlands backcountry.

Dennis had been an Aspen-area resident for 14 years, working as a professional photographer and guest services manager at some of the area's most prominent hotels, including the Viceroy in Snowmass Village. He was said to have the ability to bring people together in friendship, and nowhere was that more evident than in his unique and inspiring passion for music and his deep love of sharing it with others.

His shrine was established on April 11, 2011. Several items in his shrine relate to the very popular band he loved so very much, Widespread Panic.



John Nicoletta

John Nicoletta was a 27-year-old Aspen-based extreme skier who was killed at the Alyeska resort in Alaska on April 11, 2008, while competing in the U.S. World Freeskiing Championships. His shrine contains many items, including photos of him, newspaper articles about his death, several pairs of skis, Tibetan prayer flags, a wooden swing with his name carved into the seat, a frying pan, a shovel, an eagle statue, wind chimes made out of cut-up ski poles, and a paperback copy of Jack Kerouac's book, “On the Road.”



Raoul Wille

Raoul Wille died of altitude sickness on Oct. 11, 1998, while climbing Mt. Burunse near Mt. Everest in Nepal. He was the son of Lou and Lynne Wille, owners of the Tyrolean Lodge at 200 W. Main St. in Aspen. He was one of four children and an avid ski racer. He operated the lodge from mid-1980 until his untimely death.

A pair of his skis is mounted on the outside of the lodge building. His shrine is a three-sided and roofed structure made of lodge-pole pines, and filled with many of his possessions, including his purple and yellow alpine skating boots, skis, family photos, crystals, beer bottles, a flag for the musical group “The Who,” and many other items. Around the structure are animal skulls and bones, hung from the trees with wire.

David Wood ([email protected]) is the author of the best-selling book about the Aspen shrines, “Sanctuaries in the Snow — The Shrines and Memorials of Aspen/Snowmass.” He donates all of his profits from book sales to a local charity, The Trashmasters Scholarship Fund. The book can be purchased in Snowmass Village at Snowmass Sports, the Stew Pot, Sundance Liquor and Gifts, the Village Market, and 81615, as well as at various locations in Aspen. To view previous articles visit:



Sanctuaries in the Snow

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