Whitman College grad dies in Peru skiing accident

Arne Backstrom graduated from Whitman in 2003 and died in a fall Thursday on Pisco Mountain.


SEATTLE - Acclaimed freeskier Arne Backstrom has died in a fall on a Peruvian mountain, according to his father.

Steve Backstrom told The Associated Press Friday that he was notified of his 29-year-old son's death by rescuers and later by U.S. Embassy officials.

Backstrom, of Olympic Valley, Calif., was a 2003 Whitman College graduate.

He was a conference champion in alpine skiing in 2002 and went on to ski professionally after college. Backstrom won this year's Canadian Freeskiing Championship and was a rising star in pro skiing.

He apparently had been leading some skiers down a mountain Thursday when he fell on 5,752-meter (18,780-foot) Pisco mountain.

Tavel Arellano of the Peruvian national police's High Mountain Rescue unit estimated Backstrom fell 400 meters (more than 1,300 feet) and said the skier likely died immediately.

Arrellano said Backstrom's death was the first this year in the Cordilla Blanca, Peru's highest mountain chain. Climbers die there yearly in avalanches or falls, but skiers rarely are victims, he said. None of the six people who died in the cordillera last year were skiing.

Steve Backstrom, a resident of the Seattle suburb of Normandy Park, said he was told his son hit an icy patch and skidded off into the crevice.

The elder Backstrom told Seattle's KING TV that he's "naturally sad," but added his son "had 29 pretty awesome years and a very quick ending."

Clem Smith, who described himself as a close friend, said Backstrom was in Peru to film a ski movie for a Colorado-based production company. He had earlier been featured in the ski film "Off the Grid."

"Everything's sort of secondhand on the cause of the fall," Smith told the AP in a telephone interview. "I know that he's in a really remote area that's really difficult to get to."

Smith said he spoke with Backstrom's family about his death earlier in the day. His sister Ingrid Backstrom is one of the world's top female freeskiers and his brother Ralph Backstrom is a professional snowboarder.

Backstrom was born in Seattle and polished his skiing technique on the slopes of Crystal Mountain, Wash. He majored in chemistry at Whitman and said in a 2006 interview that he hoped to use his degree to develop faster and better ski wax.

"He's just the smartest, athletic, humble, stoic person. He was just a great example for everyone," Smith said. "It's a shame. We all thought he was immortal."

Smith said he plans to organize a memorial at the Squaw Valley ski resort in the Olympic Valley.

Squaw Valley was the site of the tragic death in February of noted freeskier C.R. Johnson, 26, who fell and hit his head on a rock outcropping while taking a run down a steep chute.


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