Karine Ruby, who became one of snowboarding’s first stars when she won a gold medal for France at the 1998 Nagano Olympics, died on Friday morning in a climbing accident in the Mont Blanc Massif near Chamonix, France. She was 31.
She was killed after falling into a 20m crevasse while leading two climbers on a tour through the Tour Ronde section, said Captain Benoit Tonanny of the gendarmerie in Chamonix.
One other climber was killed, and the third was in critical condition when he was airlifted to a hospital.
Ruby, who had competed at the highest level since she was a teenager, won two Olympic medals, six world championship titles and 67 snowboard World Cup victories.
“In the snowboarding world, she was an unavoidable icon,” Joel Franitch, the French Skiing Federation’s director of snowboarding, said in a telephone interview. “It’s a huge loss for the sport.”
Franitch said that snowboarding in France owed much of its popularity to Ruby’s burst onto the scene in the late 1990s.
French Prime Minister Francois Fillon echoed that sentiment in a statement released within hours of her death, calling her an “exceptional sportswoman” and saying that she “embodied the emergence of snowboarding in France.”
Ruby shot to fame in France during the 1998 Winter Games, the first Olympics that featured snowboarding as a medal sport. Fighting brutal weather conditions that contributed to the wipeout of seven of the 31 competitors, she became the first woman to win a medal in the new event.
She picked up silver in the parallel giant slalom at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City, finishing behind her countrywoman Isabelle Blanc.
Since retiring after the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics, where Ruby was eliminated in the quarter-finals of the snowboardcross event, Ruby had devoted herself to her passion for climbing.
She grew up in the mountainous region of Haute-Savoie, and the Alps were always her backyard. She was training to be a certified mountain guide and was expected to wrap up her training in the coming weeks.
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