Fresno snowboarder died doing what he loved most, friends say

Blake Smith, 36, shown wearing a black shirt and hat, and Brandon Sims, 36, at upper left, are seen with a group of high school friends in 2017.
Blake Smith, 36, shown wearing a black shirt and hat, and Brandon Sims, 36, at upper left, are seen with a group of high school friends in 2017. Special to The Bee

Blake Smith was doing what he loved most – snowboarding with his friends at China Peak Mountain Resort on a snowy day – when his life ended in a freak accident.

Smith, 36, of Fresno was snowboarding around noon Friday when he fell headfirst into a 5-foot embankment of fresh snow and suffocated when he couldn’t free himself, said Tim Cohee, China Peak’s managing partner and general manager.

The resort had reopened just hours earlier after weeks of being shut down due to a lack of snow.

blake smith
Blake Smith

Smith grew up in Clovis and graduated from Buchanan High School, said his friend Jamie Brown, 39. She said he was a skier as a child but got more into snowboarding as an adult. “He offered to take me riding (snowboarding) a few years ago and our friendship grew from there,” she said.

His favorite place to be was China Peak “strapped to his board,” she said. Smith would go to China Peak almost every weekend, Brown said, adding that they would even go there on Christmas Day.

“This last season he was trying to win a competition in the Powder Alliance, which China Peak was a part of,” Brown said. “He was so excited about this competition and told me he thought he had a good chance to win  ,” she added. Winning the competition could have landed him a trip to Japan.

After the resort was forced to close for weeks, Brown said, Smith chased snow in other regions of California like Tahoe, Mountain High and Mammoth.

A day after his passing, his friends created a forest green circular sticker that reads “Ride For Blake” with light beams emanating from mountains. Brown said the sticker was made for their friends’ snowboards.


“It will be a constant reminder that Blake is with me, smiling down from heaven, watching me flying down the mountain, riding the powder and taking turns,” she said.

How should people remember Smith? “I would want people to know that Blake was a kindhearted, passionate man who absolutely loved his family, friends and snowboarding,” Brown said.

Smith’s friends began expressing their condolences on his last Instagram post from Feb. 22, hours before the Fresno County Coroner’s Office released his identity.

“I can’t begin to wrap my head around this Blake! We love you!” reads a comment from Laura Shaw. A comment from Carrie Vanderweel reads, “We are still taking in the news and do not quite know how to deal with the news.”

Brandon Sims, 36, said he has been best friends with Smith for nearly 25 years. They played in the Babe Ruth baseball league as kids, went to middle school together and graduated from high school in 2000.

“I want people to remember him as a good, kind, loving soul who would do anything for anybody,” he said, “Especially (his) friends. He loved his mom and dad more than anything.”

Smith was not married and did not have any children, but had a dog named Daytona that he loved. He was known as Uncle Blake to their friends’ children.

Sims echoed what Brown said: Smith loved snowboarding, the outdoors and being with his friends.

If Smith knew that the very sport he loved would end his life, Sims says he would not have given it up. “Snowboarding was his passion. He truly lived a life with no regrets.”

Jessica Johnson: 559-441-6051, @iamjesslj

Related stories from Fresno Bee