Utah avalanche kills pro extreme skier, Minn. native Jamie Pierre

  • Article by: BILL MCAULIFFE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 15, 2011 - 10:51 AM

Minnetonka native was snowboarding in a resort area not yet open for the season.

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In this undated photo, Jamie Pierre skis at the Snowbird Ski Resort in Utah.

Photo: Brent Benson, Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort via AP

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Jamie Pierre was always pushing boundaries, vertical ones most notably.

A world-renowned extreme skier pictured on magazine covers and featured in movies, the Minnetonka native once plummeted deliberately off a 255-foot cliff in Wyoming, landed head first in deep snow and lived to revel in what was then a world record jump.

But on Sunday Pierre, who once said he hoped people would "remember me as a skier, and not just a stuntman," was caught in a shallow avalanche, apparently of his own making, and was swept to his death in the mountains southeast of Salt Lake City, Utah. He was 38.

"His whole joy in life was in doing things others wouldn't attempt to do," said Todd Isberner, a long-time friend of Pierre's parents and family. "He had a boldness, a fierceness to him, to overcome things. He could overcome fear.

"It's not like he was on an ego trip. He just sheerly loved adventure. It wasn't about showing others you can do it. It was about showing yourself you can do it."

Pierre, one of eight children of Pam and Gerard Pierre, discovered skiing at Hyland Hills in Bloomington at age 11. After graduating from Minnetonka High School in 1991, he joined a brother in Crested Butte, Colo. The two adopted "extreme" skiing, soaring off ever-larger dropoffs. Jamie Pierre continued to work at a series of ski resorts in western states, working odd jobs, and skiing brilliantly enough to catch the notice of ski writers, filmmakers and equipment makers despite what he acknowledged in published accounts was drug and alcohol use through much of his 20s.

In time he became "a household name with anybody in the ski world," said Stephen Regenold, who wrote an article about Pierre in the Star Tribune in 2007.

Pierre also later became a born-again Christian.

"He was a very complicated individual," said Mike Kessler, who profiled him for Skiing magazine in 2005, shortly before Pierre's legendary leap at Grand Targhee Resort in Wyoming. "He kind of had a reputation for a while as kind of a loudmouth, kind of a braggart. People weren't bad-mouthing him. But they couldn't stop talking about him.

"As reckless as people thought he was, he was also careful about his stunts," added Kessler, who also skied with Pierre. "He didn't just ski off any cliff any time. He measured the snowpack. He was as deliberate as you can be about things like that. "

According to accounts of Sunday's accident, Pierre and a companion were snowboarding in a resort area not yet open to the public, where a foot of wet snow had recently fallen on top of a foot of "rotten" snow. Pierre and his partner triggered two of 12 human-induced avalanches in the area Sunday, according to the Utah Avalanche Center. Pierre was swept off a cliff and apparently killed by impact with rocky ground; he was not buried in snow. The local medical examiner has yet to determine the cause of death, said Lt. Justin Hoyal of the Salt Lake City Unified Police Department.

It was the season's first avalanche fatality in the United States, authorities said.

"He was a local legend and he'll be deeply missed by the ski community," said Emily Moench, spokeswoman for Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort, which is scheduled to open for the season Saturday in the area where Pierre died.

Isberner said Pierre had called his wife, Amee, just before the incident to tell her it would be his last run of the day.

Pierre had stopped doing high-risk jumps after the birth of a daughter, Clementine, which was about the time of his Grand Targhee jump, Isberner said. The family recently moved to Big Sky, Mont.

"I think his legacy would be that you've got to live life to the fullest, and you've got to live a life filled with faith," Isberner said.

Bill McAuliffe • 612-673-7646

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