John Nicoletta, 04-11-08

Free skier at Alyeska dies in fall onto rocks

By CRAIG MEDRED and JAMES HALPIN, Anchorage Daily News

Published: April 11th, 2008

On a postcard perfect April day at the Alyeska Resort in Girdwood on Friday, 27-year-old extreme skier John Nicoletta from Colorado tried to go big off a band of rock called the Headwall on the first day of the 2008 Subaru Freeskiing World Championships.

He missed a turn, fell and paid the ultimate price.

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 the local restaurant where he was picking up food.

“It looked bad,’’ Kadel said.

The EMT described the skier cartwheeling head over heels like a rag doll for hundreds of feet down the side of a mountain that rises almost straight from the valley floor to more than 3,000 feet east of Glacier Creek.

Seconds later, Kadel said, the fire station got a call for help, reporting that Nicoletta was not breathing and in cardiac arrest.

A LifeGuard helicopter was summoned at about the same time but “was en route with a patient elsewhere,’’ Kadel added.

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 got to him. Kadel said that there were two doctors on the mountain along with medically trained ski patrollers.

“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’’ currently living in Colorado and coaching “a Big Mountain Freeride team for the Aspen Valley Ski Club.”

Nicoletta himself apparently added, “I’ll be competing at more stops on the USFS (U.S. Freeskiing) and World Tours this year — every event is a wild experience. I’m psyched to be part of it. Yeah AK!!!’’

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.

Nicoletta, like others, had been expecting big things in Alaska. Two months ago, he managed a second-place finish at the 2008 Subaru Telluride Freeskiing Open, according to Alyeska spokesman Jason Lott.

Colorado’s Summit Daily News, which covered that competition, described Nicoletta as an “Aspen bartender/ski coach.’’ But it is clear those things are merely what he did to support his true love — skiing.

Nicoletta is featured in a variety of ski videos, both commercial and on YouTube. He is one of about a dozen skiers featured in the video “After the Drought: Adventures of a Colorado Snow Company,” which is described as “1 story, 1/2 a piece of comedy; a bitchin’ soundtrack and a TON OF SICK SKIING!’’

Lott said the world championship free skiing competition was halted at Alyeska on Friday after Nicoletta fell but will resume at 10:30 a.m. today.

The fatal accident comes on the heels of bone-shattering crashes in freestyle telemark and snowboard competitions over the course of the last couple weeks. Those competitions left one woman snowboarder injured and a telemark skier in the hospital temporarily on life support.

Telemarker Brad Johnson is doing better now, but he still has a long road to recovery.

Girdwood fire chief Bill Chadwick 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,’’ said Chadwick, who previously spent 31 years as a member of the local ski patrol.

Contact Craig Medred at Find James Halpin online at or call him at 257-4589.