2 skiing deaths tragic part of challenging year for Berkshire East

  • Berkshire East Mountain Resort’s ski trails in Charlemont. STAFF FILE PHOTO

  • Berkshire East Mountain Resort in Charlemont upon opening for the season in December 2020. Staff File Photo/Paul Franz

  • Berkshire East Mountain Resort’s base lodge in Charlemont. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 4/15/2021 6:55:52 PM

CHARLEMONT — On March 12, 2020, Berkshire East Mountain Resort closed for the season earlier than expected in an effort to help curb the spread of COVID-19. A year later, the 2020-21 season’s end was marred by two skiing accident deaths in eight days — the first in roughly 25 years.

Manager Jon Schaefer, whose family owns Berkshire East as well as Catamount Ski Resort in Hillsdale, N.Y., said Charlemont was plagued with two unfortunate incidents in early and mid-March.

“It’s hard for the families. Our heart goes out to them,” he said, adding that he has spoken with the victims’ loved ones. “We want to support them going forward. We’re not going anywhere and we want to be there as they need us.”

According to the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office, Judith E. Loughlin, 70, of Conway, died on the afternoon of March 9 following an accident, and Peter M. Tague, 64, of Lanesborough, died March 17 after crashing into a lift pole while skiing. Spokesperson Mary Carey said there is no investigation into Berkshire East because neither death is considered criminal in nature.

The fatal accidents followed at least two incidents at Berkshire East that resulted in the patients being airlifted for treatment, including a 12-year-old boy on March 5.

Schaefer said adventure sports have inherent risk but called the fatal accidents “totally tragic.” Berkshire East closed for the season around April 1, but Schaefer said the accidents had no influence on that decision.

He explained the resort has specific protocol for handling accidents. The company’s ski patrol — made up of paid and volunteer medical experts — responds to the scene and connects with local emergency dispatchers. The injured person or persons get removed from the mountain and brought to a control base before being placed into an ambulance that has been summoned. Schaefer said the specific trail is closed for an investigation that includes the Massachusetts State Police, because “I want a thorough third-party review.”

Schaefer, 40, grew up on the mountain and believes the most recent death before the two in March occurred when he was in his early teens.

On April 7, it was announced he had been chosen as one of four recipients of the 2021 SAMMY Leadership Awards, bestowed by Ski Area Management (SAM), made up of industry professionals. The awards honor individuals for their “impact on their resorts, local communities and industry at large.” Schaefer said the award reflects the hard work of all Berkshire East and Catamount employees.

According to a press release from SAM, Schaefer made the resorts the first mountains to close when the pandemic struck. Two weeks later, his crew started Goggles for Docs, a personal protective equipment effort that delivered nearly 60,000 ski goggles to health care workers around the world.

Schaefer said he hopes to reopen Berkshire East by Thanksgiving. Berkshire East has also owned Zoar Outdoor Adventure Resort in Charlemont since February 2020. Zoar Outdoor is readying to open for the summer.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.

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