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Matthew Jamie Pierre, the 38-year-old extreme skier who died Sunday in an avalanche at Snowbird, had dialed back his risk-taking career recently to concentrate on a life with his wife, Amee, and their two children.

Originally from Minnesota, Pierre, who was known as Jamie, had lived in the Salt Lake area for about 16 years. Recently he moved his family to Big Sky, Mont., where he took a job with the Moonlight Basin ski resort. Beginning this season, he was to be the resort's "athlete ambassador."

Todd Jones, a Jackson Hole, Wyo.-based cinematographer who worked with Pierre for many years, said Monday that the skier had determined his days of taking big risks were over. Pierre had appeared in many ski movies made by Warren Miller and others, and set a record for the longest cliff jump after he skied off a 255-foot cliff near Grand Targhee in Wyoming in 2006.

In an interview with the Denver Post shortly after that jump, Pierre talked about how he made sure conditions were as safe as possible.

"But I would be a liar if I said I was not very, very, very lucky I didn't get hurt. There was very little leeway. I was going to live or die," he told the newspaper.

But Jones said that several years ago, Pierre told him: "I'm going to take a step back and keep it safe for the family. I want to be a good dad."

"Unfortunately, he was just out [Sunday] with a buddy having fun and maybe his guard was down," Jones said.

According to a report from the Utah Avalanche Center, Pierre and an unidentified companion hiked into Snowbird from Alta on a recreational outing. Neither resort has opened for the season, and no avalanche control has been done. But both ski areas are on National Forest Land, which is open to the public, although Snowbird posted signs on Saturday saying that the resort was not open.

At about 2:30 p.m., Pierre dropped into what is called the South Chute in Snowbird's Gad Valley, elevation 10,300 feet.

Although Pierre was known as a skier, he was riding a snowboard when he apparently triggered a slab avalanche on the 40-degree slope. The 16-inch slab swept him 700 feet down the rocky, narrow chute, said Brett Kobernik, a forecaster with the Avalanche Center.

"It was a pretty good slab he knocked off," Kobernik said. "It's not unusual to have weak snow this time of season. This year, it's a little weaker than usual."

The earliest season avalanche fatality among Utah skiers and boarders was on Nov. 7, 1994, according to Bruce Tremper, director of the Avalanche Center. Sunday's fatality ties as the second earliest fatality with one on Sunset Peak in 1985.

Pierre was dead when rescuers reached him. Kobernik said that although he was not buried, he suffered trauma as he was swept over the steep, rocky mountainside.

On Monday, Pierre was remembered as "a super nice guy" by Jones and others.

"He was an awesome dad. He was a family man at this point," Jones said.

Lee Cohen, a Salt Lake area photographer who knew Pierre well and photographed him skiing over a decade, said his friend was a tremendous athlete. "Jamie didn't get his due credit as a skier. He was more talented than anyone knew."

Like Jones, Cohen said the high-flying skier had become "the ultimate family man" and was looking forward to a new chapter in his life.

"I know he was very happy about his life in Montana. He was very excited about it," he said. "It's just too bad."

Scott Markewitz, another Utah photographer who worked with Pierre, said the skier was always very dedicated to his work.

"He really loved skiing and loved to push the limits," Markewitz said. "He did some wild things, but he was more calculating than people give him credit for."

Pierre knew the terrain well at the site of Sunday's avalanche, Markewitz said.

"It's a really sad and unfortunate side to this industry," he said. "Sometimes you lose good friends and acquaintances."

One of Pierre's friends, Matt Boynton, said the world-famous extreme skier was "really a down-to-earth guy."

"He was always happy to see little kids on the ski hill," Boynton recalled. "He would go out of his way to make sure they were having fun."

Greg Pack, the general manager at Moonlight Basin, said among the reasons he hired Pierre was that, despite his fame, he was always warm and friendly with people he met.

"Guys would come up to him and recognize him and he would talk to them, as long as they wanted," Pack said. "The hardest part about this whole thing is he loved his wife and kids so much."

Although the first snows of the ski season are inviting, they can bring hazardous conditions, Kobernik said. But many skiers who hike up to skiable terrain at resorts before they open for the season aren't necessarily back-country skiers trained in avalanche danger.

"It's a recurring theme for people to say, 'I didn't realize this amount of snow would have such bad avalanche conditions,' " he said.

The center's report on Pierre's accident summarizes the weekend's hazardous conditions.

"Collapsing of the snowpack occurred all week prior to the accident," the report said. "There were two slab avalanches triggered early in the week and no less than 12 human triggered avalanches during the day of the accident. Over an inch of water weight was added to our weak pre-existing snow, obviously too much weight for the snowpack to stay put with people on the steeper slopes."

One of the other Sunday avalanches injured a skier at Alta who triggered a slide near Gunsight, elevation 10,200 feet. The skier was carried 500 feet down the mountain, according to the center's report, and suffered a broken leg. —

Learn more

Read the Utah Avalanche Center's report on Jamie Pierre's accidental death and see photos of the slide •

From the Trib archives

Avalanche victims fall into 'mental traps,' according to researcher •