Powder is deeply saddened to report the death of professional freeskier Arne Backstrom. Backstrom, the 2010 McConkey Cup winner as the overall Freeskiing World Tour Champion passed away in a tragic skiing accident in the remote Cordillera Blanca region of Peru. Backstrom, a Seattle native who had been living in Squaw Valley was skiing with his friends and fellow Squaw locals “American Dave” Rosenbarger and Kip Garre at the time of his death. He was 29.
Arne is the brother of Matchstick Productions athlete Ingrid Backstrom, and in recent years had begun to establish his own mark in the ski world. Arne, a relative newcomer to the competitive freeski circuit in 2009-10, was also gaining a reputation—in Chamonix of all places—as a tremendously gifted ski alpinist. Aside from his competition results, he was best known for completing technical ski mountaineering descents with strong, fluid style. Arne’s younger brother, Ralph, also resides in Squaw Valley and is an accomplished snowboarder. His parents both still reside in the greater Seattle area.
Our best wishes and prayers go out to the Backstrom family and the Squaw Valley community.
We will have more details as they come out.
Editor’s Note: This accident report was provided by the friends and family of Arne Backstrom.
June 6, 2010
At 9:45 am on June 3rd Arne Backstrom was killed while skiing Pisco (5752 m) in the Llanganuco Valley of the Cordillera Blanca, Peru. With him were Kip Garre and Dave Rosenbarger. The team arrived in Peru on the 28th of May for a month long ski mountaineering expedition. On June 1st the team established a base camp at 4650 m in the Llanganuco Valley with intentions of climbing and skiing Pisco as a part of their acclimatization process. At 4:45 am on June 3rd Arne, Kip, and Dave started their climb from base camp under clear skies and calm winds. They ascended the Standard Route via the Huandoy/Pisco Col and SW Slopes with no difficulties. The team made the summit at 9:00 am and began their descent at 9:25.
Snow conditions off of the summit were consistent and ideal for skiing. An inch of warmed, soft snow overlay a firm base. Approximately 150 m below the summit the team stopped at a ramp leading to Pisco’s S Face, a 400m 50-55 degree slope of snow and rock. The S Face was a feature that the team had observed and discussed during the two days prior to their climb. At 9:45 am, after some discussion, Arne decided to descend the ramp to assess the snow conditions of the face. He made a few turns down the 40-degree ramp in soft conditions before encountering hard snow or ice. Arne attempted to traverse onto the S Face to what appeared to be softer snow. Conditions on the face remained firm and the team noticed Arne accelerate. His downhill ski released causing Arne to fall out of Kip and Dave’s sight.
Not able to see Arne or the entire S Face, Kip and Dave tried to make verbal contact with no success. Realizing self-arrest was highly unlikely, Kip and Dave descended the route of their ascent knowing it would be the safest, fastest way to reach Arne. At 9:55 Kip and Dave encountered a guide and client just below the Huandoy/Pisco Col and informed them of the accident. At this point Kip and Dave roped up and began to traverse/skin, maintaining a high route under Pisco’s S Face through heavily glaciated and crevassed terrain. At approximately 10:55 am they found Arne beneath the face. Upon thorough examination Arne had neither a radial nor a carotid pulse and had sustained head trauma despite wearing a helmet.
Unable to move Arne back through the glaciated terrain, Kip and Dave were forced to descend in search of help. At 11:30 am Kip and Dave reached two guides who had been informed of the accident and were coming to assist in the rescue. All unnecessary equipment was left behind and the rescue party walked roped up back to Arne and reached him at 12:15 pm. An improvised litter was created using a rope and skis. The four person rescue party began moving Arne back towards the trail leading to base camp at 1:15 pm. Due to soft snow and complicated terrain, progress was slow. Wanting to avoid any further accidents from serac and rock fall from the face above, the decision was made after two hours of work to leave Arne in a safe location and return the following morning with additional help.
At approximately 4:15 pm, with the use of a satellite phone, the team contacted a friend in the United States to help with coordination of a rescue and to notify members of Arne’s family.
The following day, with the help of several local porters and guides Arne was brought down to a refuge located adjacent to the team’s base camp. Currently formalities are being taken care of to return Arne back to his family in the United States.
We want to apologize for the factual nature of this report. All of us here, as well as thousands of friends and family members around the world are deeply saddened by this unfortunate event. Our foremost concern, however, is that all of the facts surrounding the accident are understood.
Our thoughts and sympathy are with the Backstrom family.
According to sources close to the family, Backstrom and team were in Peru to attempt a descent of Artesanraju, a 5,999 meter peak in the Cordillera Blanca region. The accident, however, took place during an acclimation day on a smaller sub-peak.