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Backcountry Tradedies | UNITED STATES, COLORADO | 04/12/2008, by HotChocolate
For each thorn, there's a rosebud...
for each twilight — a dawn...
for each trial — the strength to carry on,
For each stormcloud — a rainbow...
for each shadow — the sun...
for each parting — sweet memories
when sorrow is done.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
Rocky Mountain News
Aspen skier killed in Alaska
Troy Hooper, Special to the Rocky
Originally published 11:06 p.m., April 11, 2008
Updated 11:11 p.m., April 11, 2008
Updated 11:11 p.m., April 11, 2008
Aspen resident and professional skier John Nicoletta was killedafter falling off a monstrous cliff in a U.S. Freeskiing Seriescompetition in Alyeska, Alaska, on Friday.
" By eyewitness accounts, he was making his run and basically skiedoff an outcropping and came down quite a distance," said Alaska StateTrooper Bryan Barlow. "They said it was 100 feet."
Nicoletta, 27, apparently jumped off a cliff, landed, then lostcontrol, went over an outcropping and collided with rocks. Eyewitnessestold authorities that Nicoletta "tomahawked" down the mountain.
At some point, his helmet flew off. When he came to a stop, skipatrollers and employees of a commercial helicopter-skiing outfitrushed to his aid, performing CPR and other life-saving techniques andeventually transported him down the mountain where paramedics and anon-site physician tried to resuscitate him for another hour beforeeventually giving up, Trooper Barlow said.
"There were no signs of life from the beginning," he said.
The accident occurred at about 3:45 p.m. Alaska Standard Time, whichis two hours behind Aspen. Trooper Barlow said the cause of death hasbeen ruled as "massive blunt force trauma to the chest."
Nicoletta's family in Westford, Mass., has been notified about hisdeath. Word began to spread through Aspen on Friday night thatNicoletta had passed.
Nicoletta worked as a waiter at Campo De Fiori. But skiing was hispassion. According to his profile on www.usfreeskiing.com, he countedSmith, Helly Hansen, Volkl, Shred Alert and Leki among his sponsors. Hewas also a coach for a big-mountain freeride team for the Aspen ValleySki Club.
Nicoletta is at least the third sponsored athlete from the Aspen area this year to be killed skiing or snowboarding off a cliff.
Extreme skier Billy Poole died from injuries sustained in a cliffjump during a film shoot in Utah last January. Aspen native and risingsnowboard star Wallace Westfeldt was killed from a jump April 4 duringa commercial shoot in a backcountry area behind Aspen Highlands.
Aspen Daily NewsTears of pain and joy shed for Wallace Westfeldt
by Curtis Wackerle and Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Daily News Staff Writers Wednesday, April 9, 2008
Mostly tears, but also laughter, pain, joy and sorrow were shared by those who came in droves to Snowmass on a sunny afternoon to memorialize 22-year-old Wallace Briggs Westfeldt, the Aspen-born college junior and up-and-coming snowboard star who died in a tragic backcountry snowboarding accident on Friday.
At an on-snow, “open mic” memorial on the Sandy Park run at the foot of the Hanging Valley Wall, about 20 friends and family members spoke to the 200 or so gathered about someone who was about “so much joy and delight,” said his father, Weems Westfeldt.
The ski town further dealt with the tragedy with another service, attended by more than 500, at Bumps restaurant at Buttermilk.
The testimonials at Snowmass were both heartbreaking and inspirational, especially from two of Westfeldt’s brothers, Ben and Patrick. The triplets have an older half-brother, Dylan, who was unable to attend the services.
“I pray, dream this is not real, and that you’ll come back,” said Westfeldt’s brother Ben.
Westfeldt’s brothers ended their remarks with the refrain, “I am Wallace Westfeldt.”
His brother Patrick, who was with him on Friday when he took a brutal fall while negotiating an extreme line in the Aspen Highlands backcountry, said that when he watched his brother die, a part of him died too.
“But I have become Wallace Briggs Westfeldt,” Patrick said, as the first of many bouts of applause and boot stomping overtook the crowd.
Friend Travis McLain, who coached Westfeldt at the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club, described a man who “never had anything bad to say about anybody and was always getting people out of trouble.”
McLain and others traced a clear line between Westfeldt’s passion for snowboarding and his overall exuberance for life.
“Wallace Westfeldt is snowboarding,” McLain said, looking up at the freshly skied lines in the Hanging Valley Wall, some of which literally dropped right into the memorial service. Westfeldt understood being in the mountains and loving what you do, McLain said.
Another friend, Mike Emerson, described a natural born leader. Emerson would always snowboard right behind Westfeldt, who he said was a very calculated rider who made you feel safe.
“He never made the wrong move. That’s why this whole thing is so shocking,” Emerson said.
Westfeldt’s off-the-snow gifts were celebrated as well. The college math major and computer whiz once taught all his roommates how to solve a Rubik’s Cube, said Megan Olenick, who lived with Westfeldt in Summit County. Westfeldt would also motivate her to go out and ride on minus 15 days, Olenick said.
The father of Westfeldt’s girlfriend got up to speak as well, telling the audience that he couldn’t have been happier with who his daughter chose to date once he met Westfeldt.
“There’s no greater comfort as a dad to know your daughter is running around with such an amazing young man,” the father said.
And in a eulogy far too eloquent to do it justice, another friend said that Westfeldt would be remembered “at the top of every line and in the center of every smile.”
Later on Tuesday afternoon, at Buttermilk, Weems and Nancy Westfeldt helped more than 500 stunned and grieving people crowded into Bumps Restaurant start coming to terms with the death of their son.
Displaying the grace and courage also frequently attributed to their late son, Weems and Nancy each stood on a stage and read eloquent tributes in perhaps the toughest task that could ever be asked of a parent.
Weems, well known as a veteran Aspen Skiing Co. ski instructor with a very easy laugh and an enlightened take on life, put the sullen crowd at ease by serving as something of a master of ceremonies, as he did at the Snowmass memorial.
The mere fact that he could laugh, as well as cry, and even function at all under the circumstances, was a small gift to the friends, relatives, coaches, teachers and admirers of Wallace who filled both flanks of the second floor of the day lodge.
The larger gift that Weems gave was when he spoke about how he had moved “gratitude” (for the joyful way his son had lived his short life) “to its place alongside the sorrow.”
Weems also said the family was comfortable with the decisions that had been made during the photo shoot in Tonar Bowl last Friday and “cannot even think about assigning blame.”
“We understand the mountains and what goes on there,” Weems said, adding that a friend told him that when a community centers its collective life in the mountains, “sometimes the mountains just come and claim one of us.”
In her own tribute, Nancy Westfeldt said her son “loved to soar” and that while there were no words to describe the “searing, heart-wrenching pain” she was feeling, she took solace in the large number of people who had gathered at Bumps and who had played a role in Wallace’s life.
“You do not raise children alone,” she said, and she encouraged people to keep coming by the Westfeldt house.
Nancy Westfeldt then gathered herself and directed her final words at Wallace.
“I will never let your spirit go,” she said. “I love you.”