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Ski patroller had fallen in tree well

The Mt. Ashland Ski Patrol member who died Saturday had fallen upside-down into loose snow near a backwoods tree and suffocated, authorities said.

An autopsy conducted Monday on the body of 23-year-old Johnathan Patrick Likeke "Johnny" Walker concluded his cause of death, according to the Jackson County Sheriff's Office.

Walker had been skiing with two other patrol members outside the Mt. Ashland Ski Area boundary on the south side of the mountain when he fell into a tree well and suffocated in the snow, deputies said.

Tree wells are areas of deep but loose snow around the trunk of a tree caused by branches breaking the snowfall in ungroomed areas, according to the National Ski Areas Association.

Victims in these "deep snow immersion accidents often fall in head-first, often become immobilized and suffocate," according to the NSAA.

Walker was the last of three ski patrollers descending a hill when the first two looked back and discovered Walker had fallen into a tree well, deputies said. The other members climbed uphill and dug Walker out, but he was not breathing, deputies said.

Ski patrollers, and eventually medical personnel at the ski area, tried to resuscitate Walker continuously for about two hours, deputies said. He was pronounced dead at 3:37 p.m., deputies said.

Walker, who previously lived in Yakima, Washington, worked as a ski patrol member at Mt. Ashland since November 2015. Friends and co-workers described him as an outdoorsman who did everything from skiing to surfing. He had also worked as a timber faller and wildland firefighter.

“He had a thirst for fun and adventure unlike anyone I have known. With his smile and charm you simply couldn’t have a bad day with Johnny around,” ski area General Manager Hiram Towle said in a written statement Sunday.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

Mt. Ashland ski patroller Johnathan Walker fell into a tree well and suffocated, autopsy concludes