Valdez residents are mourning the loss of an individual who not only helped put Valdez on the map as a top destination for backcountry skiers, but also continually gave to the community, making it a better place to live.
Sixty- two year old Karen Stewart died Monday night while riding on an all terrain vehicle trail along Mineral Creek, just outside of downtown Valdez. Three teenagers found Stewart pinned under her ATV and immediately notified emergency personnel who pried her out from underneath the vehicle, but were unable to resuscitate her.
Stewart and her late husband Ryan McCune plus a core of other outdoor enthusiasts founded the World Extreme Skiing Championships held in Valdez from 1991 to 2001.
Dean Cummings, a world class skier and racer was lured to Valdez for the event and now operates a heli-ski company dropping thrill seekers on the snow laden peaks of Thompson Pass. Cummings says it was their down-home approach to visiting skiers that got him hooked.
During its decade-long run the Extreme Ski Championships attracted thousands of competitors, spectators and filmmakers such as Warren Miller. Cummings says Stewart worked tirelessly to make them successful.
News of Stewart’s death kept the phones at City Hall ringing because of her connection to the back country ski community says Allie Hendrickson, Public Information Officer for the City of Valdez. Hendrickson was also a personal friend and says everyone will feel the loss.
Governor Bill Walker, who was in Valdez this August for Gold Rush Days issued a statement which Cummings added to.
Alyeska Pipeline Company where Stewart worked for many years in a variety of jobs issued a statement saying her sunny enthusiastic personality will be missed among coworkers and the entire community.