DOUG COOMBS, perhaps the world's greatest backcountry skier, slipped as he rushed to the aid of a friend in April and fell to his death off a cliff in the French Alps, shocking the ski world.
A gifted skier who pioneered hundreds of first descents, especially in his beloved Chugach Range in Alaska, Coombs slipped off a cliff near La Grave, France, while sidestepping down to help a companion who had just plunged over the same precipice. Both skiers fell an estimated 1,500 feet and were killed. Coombs was 48.
"Doug had a relentless passion for the mountains. He lived in his ski boots, says Scot Schmidt, who, with Coombs, helped elevate the niche sport of big-mountain skiing to new heights in the 1980s and 1990s.
Schmidt worked with Coombs as a stunt skier on the 1993 film Aspen Extreme. "The director got mad at Doug because he made everything look easy, Schmidt says. "He kept telling him to look more out of control.
Coombs brought a contagious enthusiasm to the snow. His flawless technique and instinctive feel for the backcountry made him a legend. His humility and gentle humor made him a friend to anyone he worked with. He is survived by his wife and 3-year-old son.