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Editor’s note: On Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, Dean Cummings was found not guilty of second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter. His attorneys successfully argued he shot and killed Guillermo Arriola in self-defense.
Editor’s note 2: District Attorney Lemuel Martinez provided the following update on Dec. 1, 2020: “The defendant has raised competency in this case and he was ordered to the New Mexico Behavioral [Health] Institute in Las Vegas, New Mexico, to be treated to competency, so the case is stayed and nothing is going on or can go on until his competency is determined.”
Editor’s note 3: In an in-depth article on Cummings in the February, 2021 issue of Outside, the magazine reports that “at a hearing on February 11, a judge determined that Cummings is now fit to be tried in court. A trial is tentatively set for January 2022.”
Editor’s note 4: Cummings’ trial has now been moved from August to November of 2022. This reporter may be called as a witness because of this 2020 jailhouse phone interview.
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.”