Freeskier Ryan Hawks dies after crash during extreme competition

Pro freeskier Ryan Hawks died early Tuesday of injuries suffered during an extreme competition in Northern California. He was 25 and a rising star in the sometimes dangerous sport of big-mountain freeskiing.

Hawks, a Utah resident originally from Vermont, had had been attempting a 40-foot backflip Sunday during the North American Freeskiing Championships at Kirkwood Ski Resort near Lake Tahoe. He fell hard after landing and was airlifted to Reno’s Renown Health Center, where he was being treated for internal injuries.

An official cause of death is pending an investigation, according to Reno’s Washoe County Medical Examiner.

Dan Abrams, president of FlyLow Gear, which sponsored the athlete, told Outside magazine: “The comp was in full swing. All of the heavy hitters were skiing, but a lot of the guys were falling. There was an opportunity for Ryan to go all out get on the podium. He has a history of back flips and basically going for it in comps.”

Hawks belonged to a group of Vermont-born athletes known as Green Mountain Freeride. Lars Chickering Ayers, a fellow team member and competitor at the championships, told ESPN’s Megan Michelson, “We’d all agree he was one of the happiest people we’d ever met. He brought that to the ski community. He was loved by everyone he met. He was always positive and that was his way of being.”

Renowned Colorado freeskier Chris Davenport, when asked by GrindTv for a statement about Hawks, replied: “I only met him once, last August in Portillo, Chile. It would be kind of irresponsible of me to speak as if I knew him real well, but he did send a very impressive air, twice, in Portillo, so it was obvious to me he had a knack for skiing cool lines and stomping landings.

“But most of all I remember him as a humble, respectful, and excited kid who was so psyched he was getting to ski in Chile with friends, and even though the conditions [weren’t ideal] he was having the time of his life.”

Among the many supportive comments on the Newschoolers website forum is this one from T-Hobbs: “Hawks was an AMAZING guy and skier. He always put a smile on your face. I can’t believe he’s gone. Truly an inspirational person and skier. Such a loss to the ski world. Ryan, we’ll miss you so much. Shred those clouds for us.”

ESPN reports that Hawks’ death is the third involving a competitive big-mountain freeskier in four years. It cited the 2008 death of John Nicoletta at the Freeskiing World Tour Championships at Alyeska in Alaska; and the 2007 death of Neil Valiton at an International Freeskiers Assn. event at Tignes, France.