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Brian Fletcher (on the left) with his older brother Drew at Mount Ashland in 2007. Photo courtesy of Sandra Fletcher

Brian Fletcher, the 37-year-old man who died in a ski accident at Mt. Hood Skibowl on New Year’s Eve, was a lifelong skier who loved the mountains.

Fletcher started ski racing at Mount Ashland in Southern Oregon at the age of five, raced for Ashland High School and trained at Mount Hood and Whistler Blackcomb for several summer sessions. He skied through college and after graduating from the University of Oregon and becoming a respiratory therapist.

“He did a lot of sports," everything from kayaking to martial arts, said his mother Sandra Fletcher. “But his favorite thing was always skiing.”

A Bad Crash on Reynolds

Brian Fletcher had traveled up from Southern Oregon after Christmas to stay at a Mount Hood cabin with some friends. His lifelong friend Eric Harris, who also raced at Mount Ashland as a kid, had a Groupon deal for Skibowl on New Year’s Eve, so the two ski buddies went out to make some fast turns together.  

They were shredding down Skibowl’s Reynolds Run at about 8:30 pm on New Year’s Eve when Fletcher lost control and crashed at high speed near the intersection of Reynolds and Low Road, the beginner’s run that leads to the Multorpor chairlift. He didn’t respond when his friend Harris raced down to see if he was okay.

A nearby snowboarder who was trained in CPR had witnessed the crash, recognized how serious it was, and responded quickly. But he could not revive Fletcher with CPR, and neither could the Skibowl patrollers and American Medical Response paramedics who responded to the emergency call. The paramedics continued trying to resuscitate  Fletcher in the ambulance, but they couldn’t get his heart going because his chest had been crushed so badly.

Here is how Eric Harris remembers the crash, in his words:

We were coming down a steep section. It wasn’t really mogully, just a little chunky. And as we were coming down the face, leading up to where the beginner’s traversing run comes across, I remember thinking 'Wow, that looks like a pretty hairy section,' so I checked my speed a bunch.

I was on the outside and I kind of saw a poof of smoke out of the corner of my eye. It looked like a typical yard-sale crash. So I did a swooping turn over to the left, where Brian was lying, and I grabbed his skis. And a snowboarder had gone over. At this point I wasn’t concerned at all but I could see from the snowboarder’s face that he saw something dangerous.

The snowboarder had Brian’s jacket off and he said, ‘Grab his midsection here and I’ll support his head and we’ll turn him on three.’ We turned him around. We knew he was unconscious and he was breathing. The snowboarder’s girlfriend was jumping up and down trying to flag somebody to get ski patrol. And I was going 'Wake up Brian. Give us a sign. Blink your eyes. Do something.’ And the ski patrol came in about four or five minutes, and they started working on him and giving him oxygen and moved him onto a backboard. By this point Brian’s skin color looked like it was changing, and it looked like the ski patrollers recognized also that this was something really serious. They sent him down on the sled and told me to try to get his mom on the phone. So I called up his mom and I skied down with Brian’s skis.

There was an ambulance waiting down there and they had him in the ambulance, just sitting there, not moving. And I was like, 'Why is the ambulance not goIng to the hospital?' And the ski patrol guy was like, ‘They’re just trying to revive him at this point.’ That maybe lasted about 10 minutes. And one of the ski patrollers came out, and he had a bad look on his face.

Fletcher was declared dead on the mountain. The Oregonian reported that the cause of death was blunt-force head trauma, but Sandra Fletcher says the Clackamas County Medical Examiner's Office told her that the cause of death was severe chest trauma that damaged Fletcher's aorta and caused his heart to stop functioning.

There was no autopsy.

Fletcher was not wearing a helmet at the time of his crash.

Eric Harris said that in his opinion the Skibowl Patrol responded quickly and efficiently. “They did the best they could,” he said.

'Brian was a pure-hearted person'

Brian Fletcher's parents, longtime Ashland residents Sandra and Andrew Fletcher, described him as a positive, energetic person who was always quick to help friends and family.

“He lit up a room when he entered it,” said Sandra Fletcher. “He was always smiling and made friends with everyone. He filled our lives with joy, laughter, and adventure.”

Fletcher graduated from the University of Oregon in 2003 with degrees in business and philosophy, and later studied respiratory therapy and polysomnography at  the Oregon Institute of Technology. He worked for PeaceHealth and St. Charles Medical, and had recently gotten a new job with Providence Medical Center in Medford. In addition to sports and outdoor adventures, he was also a big fan of live theater and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

His long-time friend Eric Harris said, “Brian was a pure-hearted person. He was almost too friendly. Friendly to the point where I had to watch out for him. Always laughed at everything, always had a smile.”

Brian Fletcher is survived by his parents Andrew and Sandra Fletcher, his older brother Andrew Fletcher, his sister-in-law Tiffany Fletcher, his nephew Andy Fletcher, and many friends from Ashland, the University of Oregon, and the world of skiing.

Safety Concerns — but No Plans to Sue

The Fletchers say they do not plan to pursue legal action against Skibowl. But they do have concerns about the section of Reynolds Run where their son died.

Reynolds is an International Ski Federation-approved giant slalom run with steep pitches in its upper regions and several rollers down near the cat tracks used to traverse from the Lower Bowl to Multorpor. Those crossings can get sketchy where the fast downhill traffic meets the slow cross-hill traverse.

“There should be signs there warning people to slow down,” said Sandra Fletcher. “We just want to make sure they fix it so no one else gets hurt there.”

Just a few hours after Fletcher's accident, another expert skier, Maya Barnard-Davidson, crashed at almost the exact same place on Reynolds and had to be life-flighted to OHSU, where she is recovering from traumatic brain injury.

The Fletchers and Harris also found it odd that the Sheriff’s Office did not report their son’s death to the public. “I was wondering why it never came out in the news," said Harris. "There were a lot of other articles about a lot of accidents, but not that one.”

The Clackamas County Sheriffs send out frequent press releases about everything from shooting deaths to “Shop with a Cop” fundraisers, and they are always quick to alert the media about missing hikers and climbers on Mount Hood. But they did not send out a press release about Brian Fletcher’s death at Skibowl on New Year's Eve.

The story only came out after Andrew Fletcher, Brian’s father, wrote an e-mail to the Oregonian about his son’s accident. Reporter Carli Brosseau followed up with a news article breaking the story on Jan. 11.

Skibowl has faced several serious lawsuits in recent years, including a wrongful death case that went to trial last winter and was decided in favor of the resort. Skibowl spokesman Hans Wipper released a brief statement about Fletcher’s death on Monday, Jan. 12 that read in part, “We are deeply saddened by this accident and our thoughts and prayers are with the family.”