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U.S. teen dies after fall on Blackcomb

Father wants son remembered as lover of life



By Clare Ogilvie

David Gjerde wants the world to remember his teenage son Michael as a loyal friend, budding engineer, car enthusiast, a lover of life and a passionate alto saxophone player.

“He was a fun person, who was enthusiastic about life, his friends and he was a ski enthusiast,” said the devastated father from his Mankato, Minnesota home.

Michael died early Sunday evening at the Whistler Health Care Centre after falling coming off an obstacle in the Blackcomb terrain park.

“We were told it was a torn aorta,” said Gjerde explaining why his son, who was adopted from Korea as an infant, died.

This was Gjerde’s second trip to Whistler — both times the trip was a gift from his parents to mark his Nov.12 birthday. He had just turned 18.

“He would stay with friends who had a time-share there,” said his father. “He really loved it.”

He also loved the saxophone, which he played with the Makato East high school concert band, and the local Lancers Marching Band.

Gjerde senior said his son, an honour roll student who had already been accepted into a university program for mechanical engineering, had gone through the terrain park several times that day already when the accident happened.

Memorial services will be held in Mankato this Saturday.

The investigation into Gjerde’s death continues but officials confirmed that the teen died of a “cardiac incident” several hours after his fall in the terrain park.

“He did have a cardiac incident, which means his heart stopped beating, and that was due to some of the internal injuries,” said coroner Brian Pothier, who is still actively investigating the accident.

“He ran into heart problems once he was in the clinic.”

An autopsy was performed on Gjerde, but the results were not finalized by press deadline.

Witness statements are still being collected, said Pothier.

“The word that comes to mind to me at the moment is accident, that is what I am looking at,” he said.

“He had a fall and there was a major problem with the fall and at this time is appears that medically everything was done to take care of him that they could.”

Conditions were hard packed at the time and place of the accident. There was good visibility under overcast skies.

According to Brian Leighton, safety manager for Whistler-Blackcomb, the teen was using an obstacle in the terrain park that was marked as closed when the incident happened.

“The feature wasn’t open,” he said.

Gjerde landed on his back and broke both his skis.

Patrollers and two doctors attended Gjerde, who drifted in and out of consciousness as he was being prepared to be heli-vaced to the Whistler Health Care Centre. He arrived there about 40 minutes after patrollers received the call about the accident at 1:50 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 4.

He died at approximately 7 p.m. While health officials cannot discuss cases for reasons of privacy Viviana Zanocco of the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, said patients must be stable before they can be transferred from Whistler to Vancouver.

Gjerde was not wearing a helmet at the time, but it does not currently appear that head injuries played a role in his death.

Leighton said Whistler-Blackcomb has contacted the Gjerde’s family.

“This is a tragic thing,” he said. “We feel very badly for the family and send them our deepest condolences.”

The accident does send out a message to mountain users — use the terrain wisely and do not attempt anything until truly ready.

“It is all about progression,” said Leighton. “You achieve different levels of ability and then you are able to somewhat safely challenge yourself and go off different features or ski steeper slopes. But you need to work your way up to this, it doesn’t happen in one day.”

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