Skier dies from injuries after fall at Crystal

TRAGEDY: Olalla man, 67, was inbounds when he hit bump, severed spinal cord

January 29, 2011 

A 67-year-old Olalla man died Friday after taking a fluke fall while skiing Wednesday on an intermediate-level run in Crystal Mountain's new terrain park.

Don Burkhart, an avid outdoorsman and expert skier, reportedly severed his spinal cord and was flown to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. According to a friend, Burkhart was on life support Friday afternoon. A hospital nursing supervisor said Friday evening that he had died.

Crystal Mountain had not had an inbounds accidental death in nearly eight years.

“Don was a good man, and he was very athletic,” said Richard Wheeler, Burkhart’s friend and former skiing partner. “He climbed Mount Rainier and stayed in good shape.”

Burkhart leaves a wife, Judy, two daughters and two grandchildren. He was born and raised in Bremerton and retired from the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.

He was skiing in the terrain park Wednesday morning when he hit a bump and fell, said Paul Baugher, director of Crystal’s ski patrol.

“He landed wrong, fell hard and suffered a catastrophic injury,” Baugher said.

“This has cast a real cloud over this place,” Baugher added. “He was a longtime Crystal skier. It’s very sad.”

While he was skiing in the enclosed terrain park, Burkhart was not using the box-and-rail features when he fell, Baugher said. The park has no jumps and was built in December on an intermediate run called Mr. Magoo.

A member of the ski patrol was skiing behind Burkhart, picking up trash, and was on the scene of the accident in less than 30 seconds, Baugher said.

The patroller immediately started working to resuscitate the skier and called for help. Emily Johnston, an emergency room doctor who volunteers three days a week on the ski patrol, arrived within five minutes.

“We did not hear the name of the woman doctor who was there,” Wheeler said. “But we heard she made an extraordinary effort to save his life.”

A second doctor was on the scene moments later.

“You would have had to run your car into an abutment at a fire hall to get a quicker medical response,” Baugher said. “Unfortunately, with an injury like this there is not much you can do.”

Wheeler said Burkhart severed his spinal cord and was “paralyzed from the jaw down.”

Baugher said his ski patrol was involved in four life-saving rescues in 2010 – three people caught in backcountry avalanches and a fourth who suffered a heart attack.

In 2008, three snowboarders where killed by an avalanche while out of bounds.

The last skiers to die inbounds at Crystal Mountain were in 2007, but both were from medical causes. A 66-year-old man had a heart attack, and a 36-year-old man died of a brain aneurysm.

The last fatality from an inbounds ski-related accident came in 2003 when a 44-year-old man was trapped in the snow of a tree well.

In 2000, a 50-year-old Seattle architect was caught in an avalanche on a steep run known as Exterminator. The man skied the run even though it was closed because of avalanche concerns.

Before that, a woman died after hitting a tree on Christmas Day 1991.

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