UC Berkeley grad killed in avalanche while skiing in Wyoming

A UC Berkeley grad who'd recently moved from SF to Wyoming has become the first person to die in an avalanche this season.
December 27, 2013 5:40:28 PM PST
A UC Berkeley grad has become the first person to die in an avalanche this season. Michael Kazanjy was an avid skier and recently moved to Jackson Hole, Wyoming from San Francisco.

Friends say Kazanjy was skiing near Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in the backcountry. Skiing outside resort boundaries is something Kazanjy did all the time, but on Thursday his trip downhill turned fatal.

"It's the risk you take to live life, it's the risk you take to really feel alive, and that's what it was," friend Billy Schmohl said.

Schmohl shared a ski house with Kazanjy in Squaw Valley a couple years ago. He says Kazanjy had a strong sense of adventure, but always took the proper safety precautions when skiing.

"He's very experienced in the backcountry," Schmohl said. "He's with a very experienced group of people, they did most of the right things but you can never be too careful."

The 29-year-old was said to have all the safety gear -- a beacon, a probe, a shovel -- when his friends found him buried in the snow just outside the boundaries of the Jackson Hole Resort.

A doctor who was in the area attempted to revive Kazanjy, but he was pronounced dead.

Officials say it appears he was the first in a group of five people to head down the slope and triggered the avalanche.

"In a big avalanche like this, you are just a small blade of grass in a big moving turning monster," said Bridger Teton Avalanche Center Director Bob Comey.

American Avalanche Assn. President Dale Atkins adds, "You literally have seconds to try to get out of the way."

Brother Peter arrived in Jackson Friday. The two grew up in Orange County, but both moved to the Bay Area for college.

"His colleagues had shovels and what not," Peter said in a phone interview. "So it was my understanding they were able to find him pretty quickly, but unfortunately they were unable to revive him."

Kazanjy had left San Francisco to spend the winter in Wyoming. The UC Berkeley grad majored in economics and public policy and was president of the Cal ski team.

His family released a statement saying, "Mike lived life with a full heart. He loved his family, his Cal Bears, his skiing buddies, and San Francisco."

"That's been the big takeaway from all of this," Peter said. "You know, Mike lived his life with a lot of love to the people around him and they did for him as well."

His friends are also expressing their grief on Instagram -- saying "today is a sad day in the mountains."

Kazanjy worked at Autodesk and Hotwire, but recently took time off to travel.

The avalanche was said to have a 40-inch slide depth. It's also been described as soft-slab avalanche, which according to experts, tend to break at your feet.


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