ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- Colorado extreme skier John Nicoletta lost control when he tried to ski off a band of rock called the Headwall, tumbling to his death in the Subaru Freeskiing World Championships at the Alyeska Ski Resort in Girdwood.
Nicoletta died Friday. He was 27.
Terry Kadel, assistant emergency medical services chief for the Girdwood Fire Department, said he watched Nicoletta tumble down the Headwall on live video being broadcast at a restaurant where he was picking up food.
"It looked bad," Kadel said.
The EMT described the skier cartwheeling head over heels for hundreds of feet down the side of a mountain that rises almost straight from the valley floor to more than 3,000 feet. Nicoletta's helmet was ripped off in one impact.
Seconds later, Kadel said, the fire station got a call for help, reporting that Nicoletta was not breathing and in cardiac arrest.
A helicopter ambulance was summoned at about the same time but "was en route with a patient elsewhere," Kadel said.
The helicopter could not immediately respond, he said, but "it wouldn't have made a difference."
Alaska state trooper Sgt. Bryan Barlow said it appeared Nicoletta suffered life-ending injuries during the fall and was dead by the time help reached him. Cause of death has been ruled as "massive blunt force trauma to the chest," Barlow said.
"People that were on scene that saw it said he just fell off the outcrop," Barlow said. "The fall was huge. He was head over heels, essentially tomahawking all the way down the hill."
A skier who started out on the slopes of Maine's Sugarloaf Resort, Nicoletta had spent his life working west and north in search of more snow and bigger terrain.
In a biography posted on the Web site of the International Freeskiers Association, he was described as an "ex-Eastcoaster" living in Colorado and coaching "a Big Mountain Freeride team for the Aspen Valley Ski Club." The Rocky Mountain News reported his family is from Westford, Mass.
Nicoletta was one of 70 men and 26 women who got into the extreme competition at Alyeska. The event has a purse of $12,500. Competitors earn points in the competition by making bold moves jumping off cliffs or zigzagging on tongues of snow through rock bands.
Two months ago, Nicoletta finished second at the Subaru Telluride Freeskiing Open, according to Alyeska spokesman Jason Lott. Nicoletta is featured in ski videos, both commercial and on YouTube.
Lott said the world championship free skiing competition was halted Friday after Nicoletta fell. After discussions with competitors, Alyeska decided to resume Saturday.
The fatal accident comes on the heels of recent crashes in freestyle telemark and snowboard competitions. Those competitions left a snowboarder injured and a telemark skier in the hospital temporarily on life support.
Telemark skier Brad Johnson is doing better now, but he still has a long road to recovery.
Girdwood fire chief Bill Chadwick, who spent 31 years as a member of the local ski patrol, said increased risks go along with new areas at Alyeska being opened for extreme ski competitions.
"They're skiing areas we've never skied before," Chadwick said.