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Friends, family say goodbye to ‘lover of life’



Neil Falkner remains returned to the place he called home

It was a long journey home for Neil Falkner, the popular Whistler ski patroller who died April 12 in a skiing accident while doing the Wapta Icefield Ski Traverse in Banff National Park.

On May 11, friends and family gathered on an exposed section of rock at the peak of Whistler Mountain, in an area known as Friday’s Chute, to scatter Falkner’s ashes to the wind.

Friends read letters and poems, including The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost, during the informal ceremony.

His mother, Judy Lynne of Vancouver, shared a recent phone conversation she had with Neil, who was at the peak of Whistler at the time and as happy as she had every known him to be.

One of Neil’s friends played the bagpipes. Others took part in a fly-by with an air ambulance, something Falkner saw a lot of during his five years as a patroller for Whistler Mountain. Another wore his ski boots.

His family, including brother Scott and sister Lucy Falkner, then invited Neil’s friends to help spread his ashes around the area.

Greg McDonnell, one of Neil’s closest friends and one of the skiers that was with Neil on the trip, helped to organize the service at the peak and a memorial at Millennium Place on April 20. His family organized another service in Vancouver.

For McDonnell, and many of Neil’s close friends, it was a good-bye that was worthy of a man who was described as a lover of the mountains, a free spirit and a loyal friend.

"The support has been phenomenal," said McDonnell. "One of the things I am most grateful for is that his mom chose to share the spreading of Neil’s ashes with what she called his Whistler family. So many people up here needed that contact as part of their grieving process."

While it may be little comfort, "there is some comfort knowing that he died doing what he loved, with his skis on his feet. Neil skied 150 days a year for the last six years."

Falkner, McDonnell and Dave Smith were on their second last day of the Wapta Icefield Ski Traverse, April 12, when the accident occurred. The trip was to take five days, from the starting point at Peyto Lake to the West Louise Lodge, 14 kilometres west of Lake Louise, climbing as high as 11,000 feet.

The traverse is heralded as one of the most spectacular in the world, with visitors paying up to $1,300 for a guided tour of the area and for the chance to summit the surrounding peaks. However, the Falkner party didn’t see a lot of scenery on that trip.

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