Aspen mourns loss of freeskier |

Aspen mourns loss of freeskier

Jon Maletz and Nate Peterson
Aspen Correspondents
Vail, CO Colorado
Nathan Bilow/APJohn Nicoletta skis at the U.S. Extreme Freeskiing Championships in Crested Butte, Colo., on Feb. 22. Nicoletta, 27, died Friday in a crash at the Freeskiing World Championships at the Alyeska Ski Resort in Girdwood, Alaska.

ASPEN, Colorado ” Communities from Massachusetts to Aspen and Alaska are reeling from the news of John Nicoletta’s death Friday afternoon in a fall at the Freeskiing World Championships at Alyeska Resort in Alaska.

The Massachusetts native, Colby College (Maine) graduate and Aspenite for nearly three years, was described by family and friends Saturday as spontaneous, fun-loving, loyal and passionate.

“He’s my only son, but if I knew I was going to have only one son, he was the perfect one to have,” Nicoletta’s mother, Betty, said from Massachusetts. “He was just a really great kid. He loved being with other people and was really well liked.”

Nicoletta’s absence at local restaurant Campo de Fiori, where he was a bartender for the last two years, was evident Saturday, general manager David Ellsweig said.

“It’s as somber as you can possibly imagine,” he said. “He always had a smile on his face. He loved his life, he loved his friends, he loved his job. He was a breath of fresh air every time he walked in.”

Nicoletta was born and raised in Westford, Mass., a town of some 20,000 residents located 38 miles north of Boston.

He grew up skiing at nearby Nashoba Valley Ski Area, an “anthill that was right in his backyard,” his mother said. He later competed in local moguls and freestyle competitions at Wachusett Mountain Ski Area, just 29 miles away.

“He always loved to ski and he loved to jump,” Betty Nicoletta said.

Nicoletta was both a hockey player and a competitive skier throughout high school, but when it came time to choose a college, his love of skiing guided him to Colby College in Waterville, Maine. The private liberal arts college of 1,800 students is within a two-hour drive of Sugarloaf and Sunday River, two resorts where Nicoletta would often escape to during the winter to get his skiing fix.

At Colby, Nicoletta studied economics and philosophy and became close friends with Aspen local Hillary Klug. It was with Klug that Nicoletta made his first trip to Aspen during a spur-of-the-moment trip during his senior year.

“He said he always wanted to ski Aspen, so we found them some real cheap plane tickets, they came on a Friday and left on Sunday night,” Hillary’s mother, Cathy, said. “They skied their brains out for two days. John was like, ‘I’ll be back.'”

Nicoletta and three other friends from Colby moved out to Aspen in September 2004. Hillary’s father, Warren, gave Nicoletta his first job as a bellman at Aspen Square Condominium Hotel.

“I got to know him well, got to know his family and, needless to say, we’re just devastated,” said Warren Klug, Aspen Square’s general manager. “He and my daughter were good friends, great ski buddies, and he was just a nice, pleasant personality.”

Nicoletta returned to Massachusetts for two summers to work at a friend’s summer camp. The rest of the time, he worked odd jobs in Aspen ” from bellhopping at Aspen Square to painting houses and tending bar ” to support his dreams of becoming a big-mountain skier. For his birthday on April 2, Nicoletta decided to treat himself by buying a plane ticket to Alaska.

Nicoletta left a lasting impression on nearly everyone he met, including Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club freestyle program director Eric Knight. He volunteered with the club’s burgeoning big-mountain program the last two winters.

“He was really passionate about skiing, he was engaging and inspiring for the kids,” Knight said. “I didn’t spend a lot of time with him, but when I did he was a class act and an awesome coach.”

Knight received an e-mail from Nicoletta on Friday morning. He didn’t hear about the accident, however, until reading the local papers.

“I had to read it a couple times,” Knight said.

Nicoletta, the 47th competitor to drop in Friday, lost control after negotiating a 20-foot cliff and was propelled into an exposed rocky area, according to a report released by the ski resort.

Ski patrollers reached him within seconds and, upon, evaluation, stabilized and transported Nicoletta via toboggan and helicopter to the resort’s aid room.

He was pronounced dead at 4:45 p.m., after multiple attempts to revive him were unsuccessful.

Betty Nicoletta, who was following the action online, witnessed the fall.

“I knew right then and there he was seriously hurt,” she said. “I knew it was bad, really bad. One of his friends called and told me they were med-flighting him, and as I finally went through a couple of hospital officials, police and finally got a hold of a med-flight officer, the Westford Police were at my door.”

It didn’t take long Friday for the Klugs to receive word. They in turn delivered the news to daughter Hillary, who is attending law school at Suffolk University in Boston.

“We’re just sick,” Cathy Klug said. “I don’t know what to say except what a tragic loss. What a wonderful kid.”

“We’re in shock,” Warren Klug added. “He was a good friend. A lot of people are going to miss him. That’s for sure.”

“All I can say is he was a great skier, a great local kid and a fantastic part of this ski community,” friend and professional skier Chris Davenport said Saturday.

Nicoletta’s death comes one week after the passing of local snowboarder Wallace Westfeldt, who was killed April 4 during a commercial shoot in the Tonar Bowl backcountry area behind Aspen Highlands.

Nicoletta is survived by his mother, his father, Stephen, and sisters Denise, 24, who lives in West Palm Beach, Fla., and Adele, 22, a student at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Nicoletta’s body is being transported back to Massachusetts, although the family hasn’t set plans yet for a memorial.

Nicoletta will also be survived by the friends in Aspen whose lives he continually impacted, Cathy Klug said.

“He deserves a wonderful memory because he created one,” she said. “He has a place in our hearts. It’s like Hillary told Mrs. Nicoletta today: ‘He had a family here.'”

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