THIS WEEKEND, SKIERS IN WHISTLER, BRITISH COLUMBIA, will gather to mourn the loss of one of their own, Maxim Arsenault, who died Wednesday in an avalanche near Haines, Alaska. Arsenault’s death comes just days after another avalanche and a speedflying accident claimed the lives of Estelle Balet and Jordan Niedrich, respectively, both beloved members of our mountain community.
Alaska Public Radio Station KHNS reported that Arsenault, who was skiing with a Whistler-based film crew near Mount Fairweather, triggered an avalanche while dropping a cliff. He was buried upon landing. Search and Rescue was notified of the accident at 10:30 a.m. that morning and arrived two hours later via helicopter. By the time they arrived, the film crew had partially dug Arsenault out, however, he had already died.
Philippe Brient, of Atlin Search and Rescue, told CBC News: "The victim had fallen from a short cliff, about 30 feet, fell on a terrain trap and got buried by a small slide that he most likely triggered by himself." Avalanche conditions near Haines were rated “Considerable” by the Haines Avalanche Information Center on Thursday, April 21.
Arsenault’s death caps off a week that also saw the loss of Sun Valley-based skier Jordan Niedrich and Freeride World Tour Snowboard Champion Estelle Balet who died in an avalanche in Orsières, Switzerland.
NIEDRICH CRASHED WHILE SPEEDFLYING on the Upper Greyhawk run around 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, April 16. The accident occurred just as Sun Valley Ski Resort opened for its final weekend of the season. More than 200 people hiked to the top of Bald Mountain for an impromptu gathering to remember Niedrich the following day, according to the Idaho Statesman.
Niedrich, 24, learned to ski when he was 3 years old. He is remembered as someone with many talents who loved to laugh. Speedflying was one of Niedrich’s most recently learned passions. He took his first flight in 2012. On his Stohke profile, Niedrich left the following token, which his family included in his obituary:
“I say we need to take advantage of our incredible lives today and take time to make wonderful memories. I want to be rich with experiences and strong relationships, not money. Do what you love, and love what you do."
Balet, 21, was filming in the Valais, a canton in the southwestern region of Switzerland, when an avalanche claimed her life on Tuesday, April 19. The Freeride World Tour said in a statement: “Estelle Balet was a naturally gifted shining star and demonstrated remarkable talent as she quickly became a household name on the Freeride World Tour, bringing home her second title as World Champion just a few weeks ago in Verbier.”
“Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Estelle Balet as we send our deepest sympathy and condolences during this very difficult time,” said the FWT in the statement.
ARSENAULT, 36, FIRST EARNED RECOGNITION in the ski world beyond Whistler in 2013, when his heavy metal and cliff dropping edit earned a slot in the TGR Co-Lab. However, well before he earned a national spotlight, the Québécois was known to many as a dedicated and talented skier with uncontainable energy and spirit.
Arsenault spent seven years serving in the Canadian Army as a paratrooper, where he was deployed to Bosnia and East Timor. He moved to Whistler when he left the army. Nearly every day, his truck was in the Whistler parking lot first in the morning and last in the afternoon, says Dana Flahr, who spent many days skiing and filming in the backcountry with Arsenault, most recently in March.
“He was authentically such a ridiculously good person, the biggest heart ever,” says Flahr. “I can’t overstate that."
Arsenault was known for skiing big lines with precision. When he was on the ground, his style was calculated, smooth, and graceful.
“He was such a strong skier and he would choose really difficult lines with consequential airs and he would ski it perfectly and stomp the piss out of stuff,” says Elyse Saugstad, who filmed with him around British Columbia throughout the winter of 2014.
Whistler skier Dave Gheriani met Arsenault in 2007-08 at Blackcomb, where they both skied every day. They became close friends when they traveled to big mountain competitions and filmed together in the following years, eventually becoming roommates for a time.
“He loved gnarly lines and just big, scary airs. And he was hyper confident,” says Gheriani. “He had an uncanny ability to landmark features so he’d ski these super long, complex lines…He was also super kind and wanted to get people stoked. He loved showing people his favorite stashes on the hill.”
Arsenault’s gregarious personality and line choices sometimes prompted friends to joke about him being reckless, however, Flahr says he was anything but. Despite his talent as a skier in large terrain, Saugstad says he never received the recognition he deserved, but he never showed anything except positivity in the mountains. “He was one of the top big mountain skiers, but he was so unheralded,” says Saugstad. “And you never got the sensation that he was jaded and upset about that because he loved skiing so much.”
“He was just a real good guy,” says Gheriani. “He was one of my best friends. I just wish I had got to ski with him more this year.”
Flahr spent several days last month skiing and filming with Arsenault and said that he left this world happy. “Every day was such a gift to him,” says Flahr. “He touched so many people in our community here that I think his spirit will transcend. Everyone will absorb the positivity he left behind. I feel like that will resonate with everyone who is still here. He is always going to be in our thoughts.”
Our hearts and thoughts are with the families of Arsenault, Balet, and Niedrich.