Whistler loses ski-patrol legend

Sean Crickmer, "Dr. Shred", dies of natural causes at 59

The ski community suffered a profound loss last week with news of the sudden death of Dr. Sean Crickmer, an emergency physician and celebrated 21-year veteran of the Blackcomb Ski Patrol credited for saving "countless" lives. He was 59.

Crickmer was found in his Vancouver apartment last week, having died from sudden cardiac arrhythmic death. A friend and colleague, Dr. Kerry Yoshitomi, said Crickmer had no known medical history. "It was completely out of the blue. It's just one of those horrible things."

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Known affectionately as Dr. Shred among friends and colleagues, news of Crickmer's passing spread quickly through the athletic community, shocked at why something this rapid could happen to a man so active in his own life, and so dedicated to prolonging the lives of others. Crickmer was well known for his love of many outdoor sports and activities, particularly windsurfing, but it was a passion for ski patrolling that will leave a lasting mark on the Whistler Blackcomb community.

An emergency physician at White Rock's Peace Arch Hospital, Crickmer joined the Blackcomb ski patrol in 1992, eventually dedicating nearly half his career to the mountain, the mentorship of its young patrollers and the safety of its skiers.

"We do have doctors that spend some time on the mountain, but it was almost a part-time job for him," Joel Chevalier, Whistler Blackcomb director of employee experience said. "He's saved countless, countless lives.

"I think it surprised a lot of people - if you're a young patroller and you hear that Shred is on the way, you don't get the full picture of who's really coming. And I think he eased a lot of tensions when he showed up on the scene, because you knew you were dealing with someone special. Someone who saves lives in their full-time job and someone who saves lives in their part-time job."

Until two years ago Crickmer also served as medical coordinator, establishing the medical and safety procedures for Whistler/Blackcomb that Chevalier said elevated the ski patrol to a benchmark standard.

Crickmer was born on the North Shore and spent his earlier years in a variety of professions, including lumber-mill worker and taxicab driver, before he put his mind to medicine. At a relatively late age, and after much rejection, he enrolled in medical school at Queen's University in his early 30s. Upon graduation in 1986 he returned to BC as an emergency physician in White Rock's Peace Arch Hospital.

Yoshitomi said. "I don't know why he all of a sudden chose medical school so late in life," Yoshitomi said. "It wasn't easy for him to get in, but it just became a calling for him. It was never for money or status; he just clearly wanted to be a doctor and help people."

Yoshitomi, who both studied with Crickmer at Queens and worked alongside him at Peace Arch, said his friend was a rare breed of doctor who was loved by staff and who wouldn't allow chaos or emotion in an emergency room affect the quality of his care.

"I've heard the word 'compassionate' from all of his patients," Yoshitomi said. "But as much as he loved emerge med, he loved his other passions. He would proudly tell me he did 100 days of skiing every year."

After a day of patrolling Crickmer's habit of choice was to head over to Saphire for a final sweep of Spanky's Ladder.

Doug MacFarlane, close friend and mountain manager at Whistler Blackcomb, worked many difficult accident scenes alongside Crickmer but said it was his compassion off the mountain that endeared the man with so. "You always felt better having him around. If you had a bad accident on the mountain he was right there at your side, but he was also at your side at home. He was almost a personal doctor for a lot of ski patrollers. It was amazing - above and beyond - he would take the time to listen about your aches and pains. Whether it was your kid with a fever, or you had a sore back, he would give you his ear."

Through a variety of clinics with ski patrollers, on such topics as head injuries, Crickmer as a teacher inspired many to peruse their own careers in emergency medical fields as firemen, ambulance paramedics and doctors, MacFarlane added.

"He touched a lot of lives. It can be a scary thing to work on people in not the best of times, but he gave all these young ski patrollers confidence, with whatever came at them - he gave them confidence to do what was necessary to save a life."

Crickmer is survived by his wife and son who is currently enrolled in medical school.

Crickmer's family will be in attendance for a celebration of life Aug. 23, 6 p.m., at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler Hotel. The evening, featuring a slideshow and speakers, is open to the public.

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