Mourned: 4th year snowboarder dies

Brian Love seemed the quintessential California guy: He surfed, he hiked, he snowboarded. And he wore sandals year round, even in the snow.

"Free extreme": That was the screen name the UVA fourth-year used and the phrase that described him best, say his family and friends. Yet the 22-year-old whom a classmate called "the most outdoors guy I knew" chose to leave California and UC-San Diego to spend his last two undergrad years at UVA, looking for something he couldn't find on the golden shores of California.

"He's probably the best snowboarder I've ever seen," says Alexis Day, Love's friend and president of the Virginia Alpine Ski and Snowboarding Team.

Teammate Erin Houlihan echoes that sentiment: "He was an incredible snowboarder, the best I know, actually, and number one in the conference."

And that's what makes Love's February 1 death at Wintergreen all the harder for people who knew him.

That Tuesday, he took a practice run down the intermediate Tyro slope before the team practice began. That slope is not lighted at night and closes at 4:30, says Wintergreen spokeswoman Frankee Love (no relation to Brian Love). A Wintergreen ski patroller discovered Love unconscious at 4:45, but he died before he could be transported from the mountain.

"It's been incredibly hard for us as a team," says Houlihan in a phone call from Carmel, California, where she was attending Love's February 8 memorial service. "We spend four full days a week together. We have an incredible bond that made it okay to cry and to laugh."

The team participated in an intramural competition at Wintergreen last weekend. "At first we were scared to get back on our skis," Houlihan says, "but the race was dedicated to him, and we raced better than we ever have."

Love was a cognitive sciences major slated to graduate magna cum laude in May, according to his family. He planned to hike the California coast and travel to Sri Lanka and New Zealand before grad school, says Day.

Day says Love's father explained that his son came to Virginia because he never found a family at his California school. "He just got in his car and drove east and didn't tell his dad about it until he was accepted," she says.

She adds, "He said he found the family he wanted."

At least one parent is worried about the safety of club sports, which don't have the oversight and funding of athletic department teams. "What is UVA going to do with that team to make it safer?" asks Sara Greenfield, whose son is a member of the team.

She objects to the team's early evening practice. "Dusk is the most dangerous time to go skiing," she says.

"I think anytime something like this occurs, you want to evaluate it," says Mark Fletcher, director of UVA's 65 intramural sports clubs that involve 2,000 students. "Right now I don't know that we'd change anything."

Day says the Virginia Alpine Ski and Snowboarding Team definitely will make some changes. "Probably the scariest thing is that he was alone. We said you should be with a buddy–" although she notes that the accident happened before practice.

Love was found along the tree line, where the best snow is, but where it's also the most dangerous, says Day. "We're going to be more aware," she promises. "We're a racing team and we go fast."

Wintergreen's Love doesn't foresee any changes in the wake of the accident. "We couldn't say you're not allowed to ski by yourself," she says.

Greenfield would like to see Wintergreen add hay bales, netting, additional lighting and to remove stumps and rocks on the sides of the slopes.

"No parent wants their son or daughter to come home dead," she says.

Meanwhile, Brian Love's family and friends gathered in Carmel to scatter his ashes into the ocean he loved to surf.

Brian Love (left) was the captain of the snowboard team and an excellent snowboarder, say his teammates.