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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, June 5, 2010

Peru police recover body of freeskier Backstrom


FRANK BAJA
Associated Press Writer

LIMA, Peru Peruvian mountain rescue police brought the body of acclaimed freeskier Arne Backstrom down off 5,752-meter (18,780-foot) Pisco mountain today, two days after he died in a high-altitude fall.

Recovering Backstrom's body from the remote peak in the Cordillera Blanca range was delayed a day because rescuers first had to remove a local guide who broke his leg in the operation, said officer Tavel Arellano of the Peruvian national police's High Mountain Rescue unit.

The 29-year-old Backstrom, first-place winner at this year's Canadian Freeskiing Championship, died on a clear sunny day at about 2 p.m., said Arellano.

"He supposedly made the summit and while trying to ski down there's a big crevice very close to the summit he wanted to jump the crevice but couldn't turn to the right and he fell deep into the void," the police officer said by telephone from Huaraz, a provincial capital.

He estimated Backstrom, of Olympic Valley, Calif., fell 400 meters (more than 1,300 feet) and said the skier likely died immediately.

He said Backstrom was with two other skiers, who were not injured and whose names he did not know.

Arrellano said Backstrom's death was the first this year in the Cordilla Blanca, Peru's highest mountain chain.

Alpinists 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.

The skier's father, Steve Backstrom, earlier confirmed the death for The Associated Press.

The resident of the Seattle suburb of Normandy Park 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."

The deceased skier's sister, Ingrid Backstrom, is one of the world's top female freeskiers and his brother Ralph Backstrom is a professional snowboarder.

Freeskiing involves advanced tricks and jumps and originated in the late 1990s.

Backstrom was born in Seattle and polished his skiing technique on the slopes Crystal Mountain, Wash. He majored in chemistry at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash., 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 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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Associated Press Writer Robert Seavey contributed to this report from Phoenix.