A paraglider who crashed Wednesday afternoon at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort has died at a Salt Lake City hospital.

Jackson Hole resident Billy Baker, 35, was a ski instructor at the ski resort, a longtime member of the local paragliding fraternity and a member of Elks Lodge No. 1713. Friends described him as a larger-than-life guy with a huge, deep laugh.

“I will never forget that voice,” friend Carsten Stuhr said Friday.

Baker was paragliding with friend Mike Bickley at the resort when he crashed into a cliff in Tensleep Bowl. Bickley was able to fly down to Baker and called 911 at 1:54 p.m. Ski Patrol was on the scene by 2 p.m., according to resort spokeswoman Anna Cole.

Members of Teton County Search and Rescue were training in the area with their contracted helicopter. The chopper was able to take off with Baker by 2:45 p.m. Baker was taken to St. John’s Hospital in Jackson, and later was flown to the University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake.

Baker died Thursday night. He was reported to have suffered a serious head injury in the crash.

Bickley was reached by the Jackson Hole Daily on Friday but declined to talk about the accident.

Teton County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Slade Ross said Friday that the crash investigation was still underway. He said an examination of Baker’s gear would be of primary interest.

“We are going to check the rig to make sure it was OK,” he said.

Deputy Doug Raffelson said his initial inquiry determined that Baker launched to the north, into the wind, but that he quickly had a problem.

Raffelson said Baker apparently “had a tension knot in a line and tried to free it and went into a spin” before crashing.

Baker, originally from Michigan, moved to Jackson seven years ago. He went to work for the ski resort company soon after arriving, according to Lexey Wauters, the assistant director of the Mountain Sports School.

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s chief administrative officer, Scott Horn, said Baker was “very well known at the resort.”

Friend and co-worker Stuhr called Baker “a really big, strong guy who was a teddy bear on the inside,” who was “really great with little kids.”

Baker was a big man, 6-foot-2 or more by the estimate of friends, and probably 220 pounds. Stuhr joked that his buddies said he had “hands the size of lunch boxes.”

Friend Tom Haigh called Baker “crazy, generous, passionate about his pursuits.

“He was strong in body, strong in heart, strong in character.”

Haigh said Baker loved paragliding and that he didn’t let danger keep him from flying.

“It was a perfect day and I don’t think he would have done anything different,” Haigh said.

Lt. Ross and Deputy Raffelson said paragliding accidents are fairly common in the area, but they could not recall another death of a paraglider in the county.

Mark Huffman edits copy and occasionally writes some, too. He's been a journalist since newspapers had typewriters and darkrooms.

(2) comments

Rick Masters

Billy Baker was the 1292nd soaring parachutist to die worldwide that I know of. Yes, I said 1292. That is since 1986, when people on paragliders started killing themselves for sport. I make no distinction between large or small paragliders. They're all paragliders to me. You would think this number 1292 would mean something to people who fly paragliders. It doesn't.

Sara Newell

What an incredibly insensitive thing to say... I'd certainly rather die doing something I love than sitting on the couch being afraid to live.

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