Sanctuaries in the Snow

The Norris Hill Memorial Bench (Snowmass)

Norris Hill was killed in an automobile accident on Castle Creek Road on May 26, 1997.  He was 19 years old.  The driver of the car involved in the accident was Daniel Bissig.  Another person killed in this accident was Danny Axtell; (in that connection, see this page on this web site for the "Danny Hawk Loop" kid's trail on Buttermilk, which pertains to Danny Axtell:

The Norris Hill Memorial Bench is located near the Bear Bottom run on Snowmass, and those who sit on the bench have a beautiful view of the wall.  On the seatback of the bench, the following appears:  "In memory of Norris Hill who loved to ski the wall."  Photos of this bench are in the photo section immediately below.  All photos were taken by the author in February 2011, except that the last four photos were taken in August 2011.  This bench was created and installed by Sylvia Bringolf-Smith, mother of Norris.

See the sections below the photos for various related newspaper articles.

Also see below, towards the bottom of this page, for two photos of another bench that memorializes Norris.  It is located in Aspen on a trail that is near the Roaring Fork River and below the Eagles Club. 

Norris Hill's mother died in March 2018; scroll to the bottom of this page for more information.

If you have any information that you would like to share concerning this item, please send to [email protected].


Click on images to enlarge.


Aspen Times, May 8, 2003, Scott Condon, Bissigs face jury trial over fatal auto accident,

The parents of two Aspen-area youth who were killed in a 1997 Memorial Day car crash will try convince a jury this week that the driver, who survived, should pay them damages.  The parents of Danny Axtell and Norris Hill filed civil lawsuits two years ago against Danny Bissig and his father, Freddi Bissig. The lawsuits, which were merged for the trial, allege that the younger Bissig was negligent by driving recklessly and at a high rate of speed down Castle Creek Road.  The defendants’ attorneys have countered that Axtel and Hill were also negligent because they, like Bissig, illegally bought and drank alcohol.  Bissig was driving a 1996 Nissan Maxima on Castle Creek Road shortly before midnight May 26, 1997, when he lost control. The car tumbled 200 feet down an embankment, crashing into the Marolt Ranch apartments.  Axtell, then 20, and Hill, 19, died of multiple injuries. Another passenger Celia Cockshott, was hospitalized for eight days before recovering.  The Colorado State Patrol determined in its investigation that Bissig was driving about 97 mph in a zone posted at 30 mph. Blood tests determined that Bissig had been drinking before the accident.  He was eventually convicted of criminally negligent homicide and for driving with ability impaired. He was sentenced to 90 days in the Pitkin County Jail on both counts, but the sentences were served concurrently.  At the time of his sentencing, Bissig expressed remorse and said, “I messed up completely.”  The civil trial, which starts today with jury selection, is scheduled to last at least three days, assuming a settlement hasn’t been reached. It’s in the court of Pitkin County District Judge Peter Craven.  The lawsuits were filed by William Axtell and Joann Mary Connington, parents of Daniel Axtel, and by Sylvia Bringolf-Smith, mother of Norris Hill.  A trial management order, a document filed with the court by the attorneys in the case to help the judge prepare for the trial, indicates that Bissig’s negligence isn’t an issue. Instead the attorneys will battle over whether the plaintiffs’ sons were also negligent, and whether Bissig faces any liability.  “The Court has determined as a matter of law that Daniel F. Bissig was negligent and careless in the operation of his vehicle,” said a statement of claim by the plaintiffs’ attorneys. “Further, the Court has determined as a matter of law that as a direct and proximate cause of the negligence of Daniel F. Bissig, plaintiffs suffered grief, pain, suffering, emotional distress, and loss of companionship.”  The trial management order shows that the Bissig’s attorneys contend the plaintiffs’ sons assumed the risks of injuries and, therefore, so did the parents.  “The recklessness and statutory violations of Plaintiffs’ decedents in illegally purchasing and consuming alcoholic beverages, which is imputed to Plaintiffs, bars recovery,” the trial management order information prepared by the defendants’ attorneys said.  They also claimed that Colorado law limits the amounts the plaintiffs can recover.  The lawsuits of the parents also initially named the Acme Bar and Grill Inc. and the Flying Dog Brew Pub Inc. as negligent for serving Bissig, Axtell and Hill alcohol even though they were underage.  The bars have been dropped from the suit for reasons that weren’t disclosed. Legal sources have said it’s also impossible to prove the negligence of bars. It must be shown that they “willfully and knowingly” served underage patrons.


Aspen Times, May 8, 2003, Tim Mutrie, Trial begins in damage claim for fatal crash,

An emotionally charged civil jury trial pitting the mother of a young Aspen man who died in a 1997 auto wreck against his former best friend, who drove the car, began with opening statements yesterday.  Sylvia Bringolf-Smith, mother of Norris Hill, is suing Danny Bissig, who was behind the wheel when her son was killed in the accident on Castle Creek Road, and Bissig’s father, Freddi Bissig. She is seeking damages for her loss.  The case, in 9th Judicial District Court, had at one time included the parents of Danny Axtell, who was also killed in the crash, as plaintiffs against the Bissigs. The two parties settled out of court on Friday for an undisclosed sum.  Hill, who was 19, and the 20-year-old Axtell were killed the night of May 26, 1997, after Bissig’s car careened off of Castle Creek Road and down a 200-foot embankment before crashing into the Marolt Ranch apartments. A third passenger, Celia Cockshott, sustained serious injuries, though she recovered.  Bissig, who had been drinking that night, was later convicted of criminally negligent homicide and driving while his ability was impaired. He was sentenced to 90 days in jail.  James True, the attorney representing Hill’s mother, told the jury it was Bissig’s negligence that led to the deaths of Axtell and Hill.  “You’ll hear arguments that Norris himself was partly responsible for this tragedy,” said True. “But Danny Bissig was behind the wheel, his foot on the accelerator … Norris’ life was tragically lost by the admitted negligence of Mr. Bissig, and uncomfortable though it may be, we will ask you to measure Sylvia’s grief in terms of losses.”  A trial management order – a document filed by attorneys in the case to help the judge prepare for the trial – indicates Bissig’s negligence is not at issue. What is at issue is whether Norris Hill and Danny Axtell were also negligent, and whether the Bissigs face any liability.  Hugh Wise, attorney for the Bissigs, said Norris Hill was partially negligent and therefore liable.  “Mr. True has said that Mr. Bissig was the designated driver – there’s no doubt that he was the driver, but designated remains to be seen – and the evidence will show that all four young people obtained and consumed alcoholic beverages in bars the night of this event. “Then, out of boredom, they drove up Castle Creek Road,” Wise continued. “And the evidence will show that Norris Hill was the first driver … until Mr. Bissig became concerned with the speed which Norris Hill was driving and switched positions with him very close in time to the accident.”  Wise, who went on to describe the close relationship between Hill and Bissig, also noted that any economic losses associated with Hill’s death “would be speculative” because of his young age.  “[Bissig’s] consumption of alcohol, careless driving and excessive speed, they were a cause in the accident,” Wise said, “but Norris Hill was a voluntary participant on this ride. The equally careless conduct of Norris Hill and Danny Bissig led to the losses that Mrs. Bringolf-Smith claims.”


Aspen Times, May 8, 2003, Tim Mutrie, Passenger shares blame in deadly accident,
A jury found yesterday that a passenger who was killed in a Memorial Day car crash in 1997 shared equal responsibility with the driver for the deadly wreck.  After deliberating for less than 45 minutes, the six-person jury hearing the Bissig civil trial returned a judgment finding both parties equally negligent in the auto accident that resulted in the deaths of two young Aspen men.  The jury awarded no damages – economic or otherwise – to plaintiff Sylvia Bringolf-Smith, mother of Norris Hill. Hill, along with Danny Axtell, died in the rollover accident off Castle Creek Road the night of May 26. Hill was 19 at the time.  “We really appreciate the efforts of the jury,” said Hugh Wise, attorney for the Bissigs, following the judgment. “It was a very tough case with a lot of personal issues.”  During closing arguments, James True, attorney for Bringolf-Smith, asked the jury to award his client approximately $600,000 in total damages, based on Bissig’s negligence. He declined to comment following the three-day trial.  Bringolf-Smith and the parents of Danny Axtell had filed suit against Danny Bissig, Hill’s former best friend and the driver of the car. They claimed that Bissig’s negligence resulted in the fatal wreck. The suit sought compensatory damages and also named Bissig’s father, Freddi. Last Friday, however, Axtell’s parents withdrew from the suit after a undisclosed settlement was struck.  After the accident, Danny Bissig was convicted of criminally negligent homicide and driving under the influence of alcohol. He was sentenced to 90 days in jail.  Following yesterday’s judgment, Bringolf-Smith approached Danny Bissig and the two shared a brief, peaceful exchange before exiting the courtroom. Bringolf-Smith and Danny and Freddi Bissig declined to comment on the judgment.  The jury evidently sided with Wise’s interpretation of the events leading up to the accident – that Bissig and Hill were both irresponsible in their actions.  “They both consumed alcohol that night to the extent that it impaired their judgment,” Wise said during closing arguments.  Wise said all three boys and passenger Celia Cockshott consumed alcohol the night of the wreck. However, it was “Norris Hill who suggested that they go on this drive so he could drive Daniel Bissig’s new car. That’s what put this in action.”  Wise added that Hill drove the vehicle for most of the trip, until a short time before the accident. Bissig, according to Wise, grew concerned with the speed at which Hill was driving and took over behind the wheel.  Wise never disputed that Bissig was driving way too fast on the winding road. He said both young men shared equally in the risks they were taking that night.  True interpreted the events leading up to the accident quite differently.  “It would be a huge injustice to suggest that a passenger in a car … going 97 miles per hour in a 30-mile-an-hour zone had any liability in what eventually happened,” he said. “If in fact Norris Hill gave up the wheel to Mr. Bissig, then he was doing the right thing.”


Aspen Times, May 8, 2003, Sarah S. Chung, Judge throws out verdict in Bissig car crash case,

A civil case stemming from a Memorial Day car accident that killed two young Aspenites in 1997 will again go before a jury.  A jury ruled Feb. 9 that Daniel Bissig, the driver of the car, did not have to pay damages to Sylvia Bringol-Smith, the mother of Norris Hill, who was killed in the crash. The jury found that Bissig and Hill were equally at fault for the wreck, which also killed Danny Axtell.  But District Court Judge T. Peter Craven overturned the jury’s ruling last week.  “Taken together, the testimony and admissions [of Bissig] are contrary to and do not support a verdict of equal negligence,” wrote Craven. “Accordingly, the jury verdict is set aside and a new trial is ordered on all issues.”  James True, Bringol-Smith’s attorney, said his client is “pleased with the judge’s decision.” He declined to comment on the specifics of the case, only noting that in the retrial, “things will be changing from the earlier trial.” True also declined to comment on whether he will ask for the same amount in damages – $600,000.  During the May 26, 1997 accident, Bissig failed to negotiate the final turn on Castle Creek Road before Aspen Valley Hospital, and the car plunged down a long embankment and into one of the apartments at Marolt Ranch. Investigators estimated he was driving much faster than the posted speed limit. Hill and Axtell were killed, and passenger Celia Cockshott was hospitalized.  During February’s civil trial, it was revealed that Bissig and all the passengers in his car had been drinking alcohol – thus the finding that all were at fault. But in ordering a retrial, Craven noted that Bissig clearly testified that, “I was behind the wheel. I take full responsibility for that.”  In light of Bissig’s testimony, Craven determined that “even viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to [Bissig] … there is an insufficiency as a matter of law to support the conclusion that the parties were equally negligent.”  After the accident, but before the civil trial, Bissig was convicted of criminally negligent homicide and driving under the influence of alcohol. He was sentenced to 90 days in jail.  Axtell’s parents initially were also plaintiffs in the civil case, but the Axtells withdrew from the suit after an undisclosed settlement was reached.


Aspen Times, May 14, 2003, John Colson, Car wreckage sends message,

What’s left of a car in which two local youths died two years ago has begun making the rounds of area schools and public events in a safety display designed to warns kids about the dangers of drunk driving.  The car, a black 1996 Nissan Maxima, plunged down an embankment off Castle Creek Road on May 26, 1997, killing passengers Danny Axtell, 20, of Aspen, and Norris Hill, 19, of Snowmass Village, and seriously injuring another passenger.  It was reported at the time that the car was moving at speeds exceeding 100 mph, but it is now believed the vehicle’s speed was nearer to 90 mph when it went over the side of the road, down the embankment and into an apartment building at the Marolt Ranch.  The driver and owner of the car, Danny Bissig, was convicted of criminally negligent homicide and driving while ability impaired, and sentenced to three months in jail.  According to Trooper Richard Duran of the Colorado State Patrol, the car was donated to the patrol by the McMillan Claim Services, Inc., insurance agency. It has been mounted on a flatbed trailer by Professional Auto Body of Glenwood Springs – another donation to the display.  The display went public at the Strawberry Days festival in Glenwood Springs earlier this summer, and will be taken to various schools, civic events and other venues over the course of the next five years, Duran said.  Duran said the patrol had not contacted the families of those involved in the accident, but noted that the mothers of the driver and one of those who died saw the display in Glenwood Springs and indicated they approved of its use as a deterrent to drunk driving among teenagers.  According to Duran, the car is being displayed with a sign that reads, “A Deadly Combination,” in reference to alcohol and high speeds, which was donated by The Sign Man in Carbondale, meaning the entire project did not cost the patrol any money.  He said it will be making the rounds of the local schools, including Aspen High School, during the school years, “primarily right before senior prom and graduation.”  Local high school student Loren Cassin, who said she was acquainted with those in the car, said the patrol has brought similar displays to the school in the past.  “It just really makes people think,” she said. “It was a wake-up call.”  As for seeing the black Nissan Maxima itself, she said, “It would have kind of weirded me out.”


Here are two photos of another bench that memorializes Norris.  This bench is located in Aspen on a trail in Newbury Park that is near the Roaring Fork River and below the Eagles Club (FOE 184).  These two photos were taken by the author in April of 2020.  Click on images to enlarge.


Norris Hill's mother died on March 9, 2018.  See this obituary in the Aspen Times: Photos of her sitting on the Snowmass bench are above.  Click on image below to enlarge.