A Laguna Hills man was killed when he fell 500 feet and hit several trees while skiing an icy slope at a Big Bear resort, and his wife broke her leg attempting to help him, a San Bernardino County sheriff’s spokesman said Sunday.
John Kane, 47, died about 10:30 a.m. Saturday while trying out for Bear Mountain Resort’s volunteer ski patrol on Geronimo Run, considered one of the steepest ski runs in Southern California, said Cpl. Gary Thielfoldt, a resort spokesman.
Kane lost control and fell off the edge of the run, hitting trees as he crashed through a wooded area of the mountain, Thielfoldt said. The father of two sons suffered multiple chest and head injuries and was pronounced dead at the scene.
Kane’s wife, Colleen, was skiing with her husband and was injured after she saw the accident and took off her skis and tried to get to him, Thielfoldt said. She tumbled on the steep slope and broke her leg and suffered facial injuries, he said.
Colleen Kane, 46, was in fair condition Sunday at Loma Linda University Medical Center.
The Kanes were at the resort trying out for the National Ski Patrol, an organization of volunteer skiers who patrol ski areas looking for injured skiers and check on safety conditions, Thielfoldt said. A chapter of the National Ski Patrol is located at the resort.
At the time of the accident, the two were on a patrol training run down densely packed snow on Geronimo Run, an expert run that begins at an elevation of 8,805 feet, the highest ski peak in Southern California, said Jack Turner, vice president of Bear Mountain Resort, one of three resorts in the Big Bear area and the one known for its expert terrain.
“He was on a very steep trail on a very steep mountain and fell,” Turner said. “He slid off into a tree-covered area and hit a tree. That’s what killed him.”
Turner said the resort received some rain during the week, which affected the ski conditions.
“It was slick and it was hard-packed,” Turner said. “It rained on top of the snow and it made it nice and dense and (Kane) could not regain control and he went off into the trees.”
Turner said Geronimo Run is rated “double black diamond,” the most difficult of the 35 runs at the resort and one for skiers to “use extra care.”
Two men who were snow-boarding at the bottom of the run heard crashing through nearby trees and found the Kanes, Thielfoldt said. They contacted the emergency rescue team and the Kanes were taken off of the slope by National Ski Patrol volunteers during a 1 1/2-hour rescue, he said.
Turner called the accident “tragic” but added that such incidents “happen at resorts all over the country. I know someone was killed at Heavenly Valley (near Lake Tahoe) last year. With 60 million people skiing every year, this kind of thing happens.”
Although Turner did not know Kane or his wife, he said they must have been frequent skiers at Bear Mountain because “I know they have friends here.”
Susan Johnson, a neighbor of the Kanes in the Strafford Ridge community of Laguna Hills, said the couple had not been home much recently because of their skiing.
“We didn’t see them much recently because they were avidly pursuing their skiing,” Johnson said. The children are grown and do not live with the Kanes.
John Kane had recently started his own tile and marble company after working for several years as a plant manager for a manufacturing company, Johnson said.