By Tim Mutrie
Vermont skier Ryan Hawks died this morning at a Reno, Nev., hospital following injuries sustained during the Freeskiing World Tour event at Kirkwood, Calif., on Sunday. Hawks, 25, died of internal injuries, according to friends familiar with the situation.
During his competition run, Hawks—a widely-loved fixture of a crew of skiers known as Green Mountain Freeride—back flipped off a cliff, estimated at 50 to 70 feet. He landed the air to his feet, but crumpled upon impact, apparently hitting hard set-up snow rather than soft powder, which had blanketed the venue from a recent storm.
Hawks' injuries, according to friends, included a head injury, collapsed lung, lacerated kidney, a vertebrae fracture, and pelvis fracture. Hawks was immediately medevaced to a Reno hospital for treatment Sunday and his condition had seemed to stabilize yesterday. This morning, however, he died from internal bleeding, according to friends.
"Some of the other guys who hit the same air as Hawks, they landed right at the base of the cliff, so in deep snow," Chris Tatsuno, a fellow competitor and friend who was in tears today, said. "And Hawks came in hot enough to throw a backflip and enough to get it around and land it to his feet. But from the photos I've seen, he was easily another 10 feet down from the other guys' landings. So maybe it was harder snow there."
Hawks, who grew up in South Burlington, Vt., was an engineering student at the University of Vermont. He studied during the summer and fall semesters in order to pursue skiing full-time by winter. Earlier this season, he signed a professional contract with the Blizzard/Technica pro team. This winter, he was living in a van traveling to all Freeskiing World Tour Stops with the Green Mountain Freeride crew.
"He had a good head about him as far as skiing was concerned. What he did at the comp wasn't outside his limits. He had been training really hard this fall," said Tatsuno. "And it wasn't just the skiing that drove him—it was about the community and being part of that and living in a van with Lars and Silas [Chickering-Ayers] and going to the Freeskiing World Tour comps. … The Green Mountain Freeride crew built something basically out of nothing. They said, 'Hey, we're going to represent the east coast,' and now Lars is basically now winning the Freeride World Tour and they're all on the rise."
"Frank Shine described a trip [to Portillo] where Hawks was sick as a dog for most of the trip," continued Tatsuno. "But even though he was sick as he was, he was out everyday smiling and there was nothing that was going to bring him down. Because when you run into Ryan, you just feel welcome—then a bear hug."
"The biggest loss is he cared so much for the community," Tatsuno said. "He was judging the Junior Freeskiing Tour and he wanted to make it safe on the competitive side. That's what he was working for."
"I don't know if anyone knows what to think about this one," Tatsuno continued. "I wasn't out there, but at the same time, everyone left the comp [at Kirkwood] and thought he was being taken care of. With Johnny Nicoletta's fall, we saw him tumble through rocks. But I don't know what to take away from this one. It was variable conditions. It wasn't a five foot powder day—it was the day after a five foot powder day. And wind had been there. And to see what happened with that, either bonding the snow or sending it somewhere else… It's crazy shit; intense, man. Those are the variables that make our sport so amazing. It's what makes it feel so free. We'd all be in the park and pipe if we needed that consistency, but we don't search for that—we look for the variables, and trying to figure it out."