The community of Hood River, Ore., family and friends are mourning the loss of 40-year-old Matt Klee, who died May 30 after succumbing to injuries sustained in the Whistler Mountain Bike Park.
The experienced mountain biker, and president of the Hood River Area Trail Stewards (HRATS), crashed on a rock feature around 4 p.m. Friday on the advanced Lower Whistler Downhill trail, and suffered trauma-related injuries, according to bike park operator Whistler Blackcomb.
Klee was riding with three friends, which included an emergency doctor who administered CPR until park patrol attended the scene. The Oregon man was transported to the Whistler Health Care Centre, where medical staff worked to stabilize his condition. He was pronounced dead at 6 p.m.
Klee is survived by his wife, Jen.
“I just want to stress something, because what I have to share is a mere drop of what his friends, family and bike community would say volumes beyond,” said Heather Pola, an events coordinator for HRATS, who has known Klee since the organization’s inception in 2011.
"It’s hard to even put into words, because it’s not like someone leaves this planet and you should only say nice things about him, but he’s that guy that there’s only amazing things to share about," added Pola.
She remembers Klee as a warm and diplomatic leader, who unified various trail user groups with the formation of HRATS, bringing “everyone together in a way nobody else could.” Klee also worked as a training program manager at Insitu Inc., a Bingen, Wash. company that builds unmanned aircraft.
A man of many interests, Klee fronted a rock band, called Kleevage, and was an avid outdoorsman with a passion for kayaking, kiteboarding and fly fishing.
“He wasn’t a one-track guy,” recalled Pola.
Klee also loved riding the Whistler Bike Park, Pola said, where he has held a Triple Play Card since 2011.
“We express our condolences to the family and friends (of the deceased) for the loss,” said Doug MacFarlane, mountain manager for Whistler Blackcomb. “It’s a pretty tragic event for the small community of mountain biking.”
MacFarlane said it is believed Klee’s death was as a result of trauma suffered to either the head, neck or face. He was wearing the necessary protective gear at the time of the accident, including a full-face helmet and neck brace, according to Whistler Blackcomb.
Park features are regularly examined by Whistler Blackcomb to ensure the highest levels of rider safety, said MacFarlane.
“Anytime we have a severe injury in the bike park we look to see if there’s anything we can do to improve it or prevent another injury. But in this case we looked at (that feature) the evening (of the accident) and the next morning, and we’re doing an investigation and working with the team but there’s nothing glaring there,” he said, adding that the feature in question was in “quite typical condition” at the time of the incident.
Friday’s accident marks only the second fatality in the Whistler Mountain Bike Park’s history. The first occurred in August 2002 after a Langley man crashed at the bottom of the Crabapple Hits trail.
On average, five out of 1,000 riders sustain injuries in the bike park, according to WB communications manager Michelle Leroux.
MacFarlane stressed the importance of riders being sufficiently prepared before dropping in the park, and suggested beginners enrol in one of WB’s training programs before taking on the Whistler Mountain Bike Park on their own.
For more experienced bikers, MacFarlane said it’s essential riders prevent fatigue by staying hydrated and not overexerting themselves, as well as recognizing which trails are appropriate for their skill levels.
“We like people to have fun, play safe and be ready for what they’re about to do and don’t get themselves over their heads,” he added.