Jamie Pierre: Extreme skier who made the world record free-fall cliff jump


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The Independent Online

Jamie Pierre became a legend in the world of extreme skiing in 2006 when he made a record 255 feet "huck," or free-fall cliff jump, near Grand Targhee in the Teton mountains of Wyoming, without a helmet or parachute. He landed head-first, cushioned by 12 feet of fresh snow, and was unhurt but for a cut lip from a shovel when his mates dug him out of the 10-foot "bomb hole" he had created. He had skied off a cliff higher than the carriageway of San Francisco's Golden Gate a bridge, a favourite spot for suicides.

Even before that jump from the back of Fred's Mountain just after dawn on 25 January 2006, Pierre was one of the most-filmed and photographed "free" skiers, often described as "The King of Big Air" (big air being a big cliff jump) or, in the words of the ski magazine Powder, "skiing's most dangerous man." He had multiple sponsors, and one video ad he did for GoPro lightweight shockproof cameras registered more than 1,760,000 hits.

After his 2006 "monster huck," and having "found the Lord" two years earlier, Pierre vowed never to attempt such a height again (it was initially reported as 245 feet but later remeasured as 255). Although he still considered himself an "airman," he promised to concentrate on smaller jumps, on "backcountry" or free skiing, and most of all on his new wife and baby daughter. "What I did wasn't cool. I'm still alive thanks to the grace of God," he said. "I'm going to take a step back and keep it safe for the family. I want to be a good dad."

By now 38 and with a second young child, he was snowboarding with a friend on fresh powder last Sunday in the Wasatch mountains above the Snowbird ski and summer resort in Utah, a week before the pistes were due to open to the public, when he triggered an avalanche. The fast-moving, 16-inch-deep snow slab swept him 800 feet over a cliff and jagged rock. After his companion called rescuers, they found him only partially buried but dead. They criticised him for taking to the slopes before they had been cleared of avalanche danger, although it is common for extreme skiers to hike up mountains to seek out the best powder before the slopes are open to the masses. Pierre had had his ski pass confiscated in the area before for similar adventures.

Matthew Jamison Fredric Marie Pierre was born in Minnetonka, Minnesota in 1973, the third of eight children of Gerard Pierre, a native of Aix-en-Provence in France. Gerard had met a Minnesota girl, Pam, while she was studying in France during the 1960s and moved to the US to marry her. Jamie first strapped on skis when he was 10, at the Hyland Hills Park resort not far from his home. His mother said he immediately adopted the "tuck" position he had seen downhill racers use on TV; his father had to stay at the bottom to stop him from hitting a chalet. He soon graduated to moguls and small jumps.

While at Minnetonka High School he developed a serious marijuana habit when he was 14, followed by an alcohol problem, both of which lasted until he "accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as my saviour" in 2004. Since then, he said a Hail Mary before every major "huck."

After leaving high school, he moved to live with his older brother Chris – also a "hucker" – in Colorado and became a full-time ski bum, "happy and poor", at Crested Butte mountain resort, skiing all day and working in a ski lodge hotel at night. Lured by Utah's famous snow, he moved to the Salt Lake City suburb of Sandy in 1992, working in a pizzeria to save money for skiing. Gradually increasing the heights of his jumps, he soon attracted sponsors, sports magazines and filmmakers.

In the 2003 film High Life Pierre made the "inaugural huck" of the imposing Wolverine Cirque in Utah. He fell 165 feet, reaching 50mph. He had recently moved his family to the Big Sky resort in Montana, where he had been hired as the resort's "athlete ambassador" to boost ski tourism. He is survived by his wife Amee and two daughters aged five and three.

Phil Davison

Matthew Jamison Fredric Marie Pierre, professional extreme skier: born Minnetonka, Minnesota 22 February 1973; married Amee 2005 (two children); died Snowbird, Utah 13 November 2011.