Jeff Bertoia always had crazy photos of extreme sporting adventures posted on his Facebook page, said his friend Matt Pinto. But last weekend, Pinto saw a post from Bertoia's sister that no one ever wants to see.
An avid outdoor enthusiast, Bertoia, 36, died on Saturday (Sept. 7), in a speed flying accident off the Mount Habrich. The Squamish resident headed up the northwest side of the mountain with two friends. He was the first one to jump off the back side of Mount Habrich. Police received a 911 call at approximately 4:30 p.m.
Speed flying is markedly different from paragliding, said Matt Jesson, West Coast Soaring Club president. The fabric wing is smaller than those used in paragliding. As a result, the devices are faster and can't catch thermal lifts, he noted.
The main difference is that speed flying is meant to take place close to the terrain, Jesson said.
“It has been around for a while. It is a growing sport, just like paragliding is a growing sport,” he said, noting the demographic in speed flying tends to be younger.
It's an activity Bertoia loved, said Pinto, the operations manager of Kingfisher Heliskiing, for which Bertoia did environmental contract work. Like most people who participate in risky sports, those involved accept the dangers, Pinto said, noting they also can't imagine living without the activity.
“Every sport [Bertoia] did, he was giving her as hard as he could,” he said.
Bertoia oozed positivity, Pinto noted. Besides speed flying, he skied, rock climbed, mountain biked and kiteboarded. Bertoia was the life of the party, Pinto said recalling a ski tour he invited Bertoia to in which he knew nobody but quickly became everybody's friend.
Police interviewed witnesses and are looking into what went wrong, Squamish RCMP Sgt. Wayne Pride said. A helicopter was brought in to aid in Bertoia's recovery, Pride said, adding that Bertoia's body was found in a ravine.
“This is a fairly popular activity off the mountain,” Pride said.
Bertoia was born in the south Okanagan before travelling to Vancouver Island, the Kootenays and Rockies.
Having learned about the accident on Monday (Sept. 9), Pinto said he's still shocked. His heart goes out to Bertoia's family.
“Bertoia lived life to the fullest. He was extremely positive. This is how he would want to be remembered,” Pinto said. “He passed away doing what he loved to do.”