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Subject: Karine Ruby, French Snowboarding Star, Dies at 31

died May 29
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Date Posted: May 30, 2009 8:40:58 EDT

Karine Ruby, who became one of snowboarding’s first stars when she won a gold medal for France at the 1998 Nagano Olympics, died Friday morning in a climbing accident in the Mont Blanc Massif near Chamonix, France. She was 31.

She was killed after falling into a 70-foot crevasse while leading two climbers on a tour through the Tour Ronde section, said Capt. Benoît 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, was the most decorated female snowboarder in the world, with 2 Olympic medals, 6 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 had known Ruby since he entered her in her first World Cup event 15 years ago. Speaking from the national team’s pre-Olympic training camp in Corsica, he added that snowboarding in France owed much of its popularity to her burst onto the scene in the late 1990s. Prime Minister François Fillon of France 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 7 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. At the time, the pair dedicated their performance to the memory of the celebrated French skier Régine Cavagnoud, who died four months earlier in a training accident.

This time, Franitch said, the team will be dedicating its 2010 Vancouver Games to Ruby’s memory. He had intended to include her in the snowboarders’ preparations because she had been to all three Olympic snowboard competitions.

Since retiring after the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics, where she was eliminated in the quarterfinals 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 guide, which takes anywhere from 5 to 15 years.

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