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Dean Cummings extreme: A jailhouse interview with ski pioneer, accused murderer

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April 29, 2020, 3:40 pm
Dean Cummings

Extreme-skiing pioneer Dean Cummings once said Alaska’s Chugach mountain range was “the place I wanted to be the rest of my life,” so what was he doing in New Mexico Feb. 29 when he allegedly shot and killed Guillermo Arriola in what Cummings claims was self-defense?

Cummings, 54, is being held without bond on a felony second-degree murder charge in the Sandoval County Detention Center, where he reached out to RealVail.com by phone late last week. Cummings said he was looking for a re-do on life after the abrupt and controversial end of his nearly 25-year-old H2O Guides helicopter skiing company in Valdez, Alaska.

“He had a trailer there,” Cummings said of Arriola, who owned the property Cummings claimed was one of five he was looking to buy west of his former hometown of Los Alamos. “It’s a super-beautiful little piece of property on a river. It’s got horses; it’s got four horse stables. And I’m like, ‘Well, I guess it’s time to change my life and start where I left off and get off the grid.’”

Cummings said he had an RV parked on the property of Arriola, an acquaintance, but had only stayed there a couple of days when he woke up in the night to a strange and overwhelming smell.

“I knew it was bogus, and I was like, f___ this, ‘I’m going to go get my trailer.’” Cummings said. “I went there … and in the middle of the night, I was like gasping. The whole place smelled like propane and garlic and it was all neuro.”

Cummings said Arriola wasn’t there that night but showed up the next day – Saturday, Feb. 29 – around 2 p.m. and was acting “creepy.” Determined to get his RV and leave Arriola’s property, Cummings said he started removing his things from Arriola’s mobile home.

They were both in the home, Cummings said, when they started arguing about whether Arriola was part of the vast conspiracy Cummings said tried to destroy the heli-skiing company he founded in 1995 – the longest running and one of the most respected operations in Alaska.

It’s a conspiracy the former U.S. Ski Team member and extreme skiing champion detailed on his 20-volume YouTube channel entitled “How a Criminal Syndicate Tried to Destroy A Man’s Company and Life” starting Jan. 4 and ending on Jan. 14 of 2019.

Cummings said he confronted Arriola about the syndicate, which the skier claims uses nanobacteria made from pumice silica in people’s bloodstream as a magnetic means of tracking digital signatures – “terrorism basically with 5G and Blue Tooth once it’s in your cells …”

Cummings demanded of Arriola: “Are you involved with this [expletive]? Are these nano-pawns on your property?” That’s when he said Arriola attacked him.

“He just jumps at me and goes, ‘[expletive], I’m going to kill you,’” Cummings said. “And he has a canister in his hand and … it was some sort of deadly [expletive]. He’s like, ‘I got bodies buried on the property, [expletive], I’m gonna kill you,’ and he attacks me.”

Cummings said he had just put a scope on a rifle that was leaning against the wall by the kitchen table because he was planning to hunt wild barbary sheep that live in the area. Cummings said he grabbed the gun as he was scuffling with Arriola, who struck him several times and was jamming a canister of chemicals in his face.

“I just started pulling the trigger,” said Cummings, who admits he was “kind of out of it” by then because of the chemicals and being struck. “I don’t even know if I shot him. I shot the floor like five or six times, and, all of a sudden, he just drops face first.”

Because there was no cell service on the property, Cummings, after trying to clear his lungs with deep breathing exercises and water, said he drove three miles to where he had a connection but then encountered “the guy from [the TV show] Breaking Bad, the doctor dude,” who had cell service and medical training and offered to be a witness to Cummings’ version of events.

According to police reports and the Rio Rancho Observer and Albuquerque Journal, Cummings told his father and another man with medical experience that he shot Arriola with “an AR-15-type rifle” in an argument over property.

Cummings said New Mexico law enforcement officials, mental health providers, jailers and prosecutors are all in on the global criminal syndicate with tendrils all the way to the Alaska governor’s office, and that his deadly encounter with Arriola was an attempt on his life.

“The hit didn’t work,” Cummings said. “So now it’s time to frame Dean for a murder.”

Cummings was first charged with an open count of first-degree murder, but that charge has been amended to second-degree murder, a second-degree felony. Cummings also faces a charge of tampering with evidence, a fourth-degree felony, and concealing his identity, a petty misdemeanor. Cummings’ next appearance is a May 8 arraignment hearing.

“I just checked with our investigative team at the Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office, and they say this case is still under active investigation, and it is the policy of Sandoval County to not comment on pending and active investigations,” Sandoval County spokesman Stephen Montoya said in an email.

After a highly-ranked but relatively brief run as a top mogul skier for the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team, including a stint as a ski ambassador at Taos Ski Valley, Cummings first went to Alaska’s world-famous Chugach Mountains above Prince William Sound in 1991.

He finished second to the legendary big-mountain skier Doug Coombs in the inaugural World Extreme Skiing Championship in ’91 and went on to win the event in ’95, the same year he launched H2O Guides out of Valdez.

For the next two decades, Cummings – a hard-ass stickler for safety and protocol – ran one of the heli-skiing industry’s most respected companies, guiding thousands of wealthy clients on some of the most daunting ski terrain in the world, made famous in countless ski films.

Cummings registered hundreds of first descents in the Chugach, and in 2012 won Powder Magazine’s “Best Line” competition for his run on Meteorite Mountain’s Dragon’s Back — the longest spine on the famous mountain near Thompson Pass above Valdez. That run was featured in Cummings’ film The Steep Life.

Cummings famously battled with other heli-skiing operators over the years over permit areas, making many enemies in the process. His contemporary, Coombs, sold his own operation fairly early on and wound up guiding in La Grave, France, where he died in a ski accident with clients from Colorado in 2006.

Cummings said Coombs’ death was no accident, and that Coombs was a victim of the same syndicate that’s out to get him, claiming with no evidence, “That’s how Doug got killed. They offed him.”

Cummings grew up in Los Alamos – the base for the Manhattan Project during World War II that resulted in the first atomic bomb. Scientists there – many of them from ski-mad countries in Europe – started Pajarito ski area, where Cummings first learned the sport.

In a 2006 Ski Magazine profile on Cummings entitled, “9 Ways To Be Dean Cummings”, his mother, Carol, speaking about her fourth child’s formative year, was quoted as saying: “He was small, but he was scrappy. You didn’t pick a fight with him — and if you did, you were dead.”

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David O. Williams

Managing Editor at RealVail
David O. Williams is an award-winning freelance reporter based in the Vail Valley of Colorado, writing on health care, immigration, politics, the environment, energy, public lands, outdoor recreation and sports. His work has appeared in 5280 Magazine, American Way Magazine (American Airlines), the Anchorage Daily News (Alaska), Aspen Daily News, the Aspen Times, Beaver Creek Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, the Colorado Independent, Colorado Politics (formerly the Colorado Statesman), Colorado Public News, the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Colorado Independent (formerly Colorado Confidential), the Colorado Springs Independent, the Colorado Statesman (now Colorado Politics), the Daily Trail (Vail), the Denver Daily News, the Denver Post, the Durango Herald, the Eagle Valley Enterprise, the Eastside Journal (Bellevue, Washington), ESPN.com, the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent, the Greeley Tribune, the Huffington Post, the King County Journal (Seattle, Washington), KUNC.org (northern Colorado), LA Weekly, the London Daily Mirror, the Montgomery Journal (Maryland), The New York Times, the Parent’s Handbook, Peaks Magazine (now Epic Life), People Magazine, Powder Magazine, the Pueblo Chieftain, PT Magazine, Rocky Mountain Golf Magazine, the Rocky Mountain News, Atlantic Media's RouteFifty.com (formerly Government Executive State and Local), SKI Magazine, Ski Area Management, SKIING Magazine, the Summit Daily News, United Hemispheres (United Airlines), Vail/Beaver Creek Magazine, Vail en Español, Vail Valley Magazine, the Vail Daily, the Vail Trail and Westword (Denver). Williams is also the founder, publisher and editor of RealVail.com and RockyMountainPost.com.

8 Responses to Dean Cummings extreme: A jailhouse interview with ski pioneer, accused murderer

  1. Colby Scott Reply

    April 30, 2020 at 6:35 pm

    Dean Cummings needs a CT scan minimally to assess for CTE, minimally to see what’s going on, physically with blood flow into his brain. Something sounds physically wrong with his brain.

  2. Nils Gram Reply

    May 5, 2020 at 3:01 pm

    I guess I’m going to have to comment on this sooner or later so, I’ll do it now.

    I know Dean. I’m two years older than him. We both grew up in Los Alamos and learned how to ski at Pajarito Mtn. For a small, local hill, only 1100 vertical feet and three lifts, a good number of excellent skiers have come off it. I’m one of them. Dean is certainly the one who was able to make the most of it.

    I gave him the nickname D-9 Cummings pretty early on. For the way he bullied his way down the slopes. No technique whatsoever. You gotta figure, by the time Dean Cummings ever showed-up on my radar, I had been skiing for fifteen years. Over the years he’s gotten much better. I’ve skied and trained and rock climbed and gone boating with Deano. In a lot of ways our lives on the edge have been woven together. I was living in Anchorage when he won the WESC in 1995. I had just come off a solo attempt on Mt. McKinley and he was camping at Tommy Moe’s house in Girdwood. I was never able to catch him to congratulate him. Apparently, he had already gone boating.

    Over the years I’ve read a lot about Dean in the press that I know isn’t true. Some of it is, but it’s always been sketchy. He’s been at the top of the heap in his world for a long time. People get tired of hearing about what a bad-ass you are and they try to pull you down. If they can.

    Nevertheless, this situation is all too real. He has the blood of a Spanish man on his hands in a very Spanish community and very Spanish State. The Sandoval county Sherriff’s office is dysfunctional and corrupt. He’s the only witness in this incident because the other man is dead. It’s Dean’s word against theirs’. He’s fucked.

    Dean has the temperament of a tightly wound spring. He’s never been a big drinker or drug user. I don’t doubt that he’s gone crazy now, he always has been. He’s not alone. He may be delusional but, he’s not a liar. The only thing I can say for sure; He’s my friend. Always has been. Always will be.

  3. Charles Johnson Reply

    May 8, 2020 at 4:43 pm

    Dean went off the deep end in Valdez in ‘16 and should have been committed to a mental institution years ago as his behavior became more and more dangerous and bizarre. His wife left and divorced him because he was abusive and dangerous.

    Dean was always all about Dean and did many shady things in Valdez. He left his clients high and dry in the spring of ‘19 as he had burnt every bridge he had with the heli companies and could provide guiding trips without a helicopter. That’s what happens when you don’t pay your bills. But that didn’t stop him from advertising and taking his clients money that spring. Those folks were out 10’s of thousands of dollars.

    It’s so sad that a man was killed before Dean was locked away. He’ll now try and plead insanity to avoid prison.

  4. Nils Gram Reply

    May 10, 2020 at 9:32 am

    Thanks Charles. That’s the most comprehensive and credible account of what’s happened with Dean I’ve heard. The stories of him burning customers started coming out shortly after he went into business. It makes me wonder if it was ever a very functional operation.

  5. Jack Hennesey Reply

    May 11, 2020 at 9:25 am

    I put together a group for a PRIVATE heli-ski with H20 (Dean) trip back in 2002. We paid around $40k up front for a PRIVATE helicopter for 6 days. When we got to Valdeze Dean informed us that he could only “find” one helicopter so instead of a private bird we would be sharing one with FOUR OTHER GROUPS. He had known this weeks before we arrived, but didn’t tell us. No refund, no discount, no apology.

    I was beyond pissed. Instead of a private trip we had to wait for hours between runs for the other four groups to ski. Then one of the kooks in another group kicked a hole in the side of the helicopter while trying to get the snow off his boots and the pilot, super pissed off, flew back to base for several hours to try to fix the hole while we waited up in the mountains in zero degree temps.

    We didn’t get close to our ‘guaranteed’ vertical, but when I approached Dean for a refund he actually tried to charge us MORE, saying that we had received the “VIP” tour since we had a “free” picnic dinner at his office one night.

    I heard myriad more stories similar to ours over the years, and when I heard of this latest fiasco i wasn’t in the lease bit surprised. Dean was (is) a sleezebag in his business dealings, and apparently his personal life as well.

  6. Scott Watson Reply

    May 21, 2020 at 11:24 pm

    I grew up with Dean and lived just down the street from his family. We were friends and competitors. He is definitely fearless. His legendary successes were born of fearlessness. He is no murderer.

  7. Ken Carlson Reply

    May 23, 2020 at 12:22 pm

    Wow. Just…. wow! I never followed Dean’s career or his life after high school (although I still occasionally hear abt his brother), so all this is tripping me out: weird, amazing, & strange. We went to school together as kids in LA. Yep, he was small & scrappy, but seemingly indestructible, uncontrollable, a little crazy, & kind of a trouble-maker. You never imagine something wild as all this (highs & lows) happening to someone you know. He always seemed a bit… unhinged as a kid. Different. Now it seems he’s truly lost it.

  8. Christine Reply

    May 30, 2020 at 8:09 pm

    he is a liar….I am a longtime friend of Mr Arriola.
    Cummings is a murderer. how sad that he killed a great person….let’s do a ploy to blame everyone except himself. I hope he stays in jail for a very long time.

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