(Update: Resort confirms death; Cyprus media account, Seattle firm identify skier)
Five skiers, boarders have suffocated in deep snow pockets since 2002
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) – A skier who died after falling into a tree well at Mt. Bachelor Friday afternoon was a noted mountaineer and outdoorsman living in Seattle who hailed from the Mediterranean island of Cyprus and was on a “Seven Summits” quest to reach the peak of each continent’s tallest mountain, the resort and online reports said.
Mt. Bachelor Ski Patrol members responded around 1:30 p.m. Friday to the Devil's Backbone run, where the 28-year-old skier had fallen into a tree well and was unresponsive after being dug out of the snow, resort officials and witnesses said.
He was brought to Mt. Bachelor’s first aid clinic, where care was transferred to Bend Fire & Rescue, which brought him to St. Charles Bend, Brand and Marketing Director Leigh Capozzi said.
“Saturday afternoon, we learned that the skier passed away,” Capozzi said in a statement emailed to NewsChannel 21. “Our entire team is heartbroken by our guest’s tragic passing and offer our deepest condolences and support to his family and friends.”
Knews, the English edition website of Kathimerini Cyprus, reported that Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar identified the skier as Birkan Uzun, after the American Embassy notified his office of his death.
Uzun, an investment consultant in Washington state, hailed from the northern part of Cyprus and was on a mission to complete the Steven Summits, climbing the highest mountain peaks on each of the seven continents, the news organization reported.
Last week, Uzun had written on Facebook that he had stop atop Vinson Massif in Antarctica, the first Cypriot to reach that summit, as he waved the Turkish Cypriot Flag, reaching the fifth of the seven summits on his mission.
“Our Birkan, who devoted himself to his country and nation with love, will always live in a special part of our hearts,” Tartar wrote.
Uzun worked for a Seattle firm, Madrona Venture Group, who has invested in Northwest technology startups for 25 years. The business posted a note Saturday mourning Uzun’s loss, saying, “He was incredibly curious, kind-hearted and caring, and shared that with everyone around him.”
“He loved life and was adventurous to a level that most of us just dream of,” they wrote. “He dove fully into his many passions – including software programming and innovation, Turkish Cypriot culture, and mountaineering,”
“Our prayers and hearts are with Birkan’s family and loved ones. We will miss his energy and passion around the halls of Madrona,” the posting concluded.
The wife of a Bend man who was skiing at Mt. Bachelor with his uncle on Friday told NewsChannel 21 they were flagged down by two other skiers who saw the man fall into the tree well down a run called the Devil's Backbone.
Having had avalanche training, the man said he directed others on scene to start digging methodically until they reached the skier, then began CPR in the tree well, continuing until ski patrollers arrived on scene. CPR continued, along with an AED, they said.
Uzun is the fifth skier or snowboarder to have suffocated in Mt. Bachelor tree wells over the past 20 years.
Mt. Bachelor warns visitors of tree wells and snow immersion safety and urges all to “ride with a buddy in sight.”
Tree wells are formed when snow accumulates around the base of a tree but not under the lower hanging branches, creating deep pockets of soft, unstable snow. Snow immersion suffocation can happen when a skier or boarder falls, usually head-first, into a tree well or deep, loose snow and becomes immobilized.
“The greatest number of accidents generally occur following a big storm cycle – the more fresh snow, the higher risk,” the resort warns.
A $30 million wrongful death lawsuit was filed in 2020 by the fathers of a skier and snowboarder who died in tree wells on the same day in March of 2018, alleging negligence by the resort. That lawsuit is still pending, court records show. A snowboarder died after felling head-first into a tree well in 2002 and a skier in 2019.