Very much like his father, Aaron Easter loved the outdoors.
While his dad specialized in agriculture, Aaron Easter majored in forestry and took a series of jobs that kept him outside.
"That was sort of his first love," said Mike Ellis, professor of animal science and longtime friend of Aaron Easter's father, former UI Chancellor Robert Easter.
Aaron Easter, 31, died Tuesday from injuries suffered in a snowboarding accident Monday at Steamboat Ski Area.
His family said he had moved to Colorado last year to work as a state park ranger for the summer, then returned this winter to work for a Steamboat resort company.
Authorities said other skiers found Mr. Easter along an intermediate trail about 11:30 a.m. Monday. He was unresponsive, and they performed CPR until ski patrol arrived, according to resort spokeswoman Loryn Kasten.
Kasten said Mr. Easter was found in a snow depression, created when snow develops over a wetland area. It was marked as a hazardous area, she said.
The ski patrol took Mr. Easter down the mountain to an ambulance, continuing CPR and advanced life support, Kasten said. He was then taken to Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat and later flown to a Denver hospital, where he died Tuesday morning after his parents and siblings arrived, officials said.
Routt County Coroner Rob Ryg said Mr. Easter died of injuries from the accident but didn't have an exact cause of death Wednesday afternoon.
Ryg said ski officials reported Mr. Easter had gone up in the ski lift around 10:15 a.m. Monday, indicating "it was awhile" between the accident and the time he was found.
No one saw the accident, as he was going down the ski run alone, said Brian Easter, Mr. Easter's brother. When he was found, he wasn't breathing and had no heartbeat, he said.
Robert Easter, a longtime UI animal sciences professor and administrator, served as interim UI chancellor from 2009 through September 2011 and is now interim vice chancellor for research.
He and his wife, Cheryl, flew to Denver on Monday to be with their son.
They have two other children: Brian Easter, athletic director at Centennial High School, and Johanna Robinson, who lives in Mahomet.
Aaron Easter graduated from Mahomet-Seymour High School in 1998, where he'd been a member of the golf team and marching band drumline. He received a bachelor's degree in forestry from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale in 2003. He worked as a golf course superintendent in Indianapolis and Minocqua, Wis., before taking the job in Colorado last summer, Brian Easter said.
He returned to Mahomet in early October to see family and friends before heading back to Steamboat for his most recent job driving a shuttle for Steamboat Resorts, a property management company. He left town right around Thanksgiving, and the family moved up Thanksgiving dinner to the previous weekend so they could all celebrate together.
"He couldn't make it back home for Christmas," which is peak season for the ski resorts, Brian Easter said.
He said his brother was much like his father, in that they both loved being outdoors, building things and "tinkering with tools."
"Ever since I can remember he seemed to enjoy doing something outside. He was never one of those kids who liked to be inside playing video games or working on a puzzle," Brian Easter said.
But he was also much more "casual and carefree" than his father, he said.
"Aaron didn't really have any reservations about trying stuff," he said.
The two brothers were eight years apart but had grown closer as adults, especially when they both lived in the Chicago suburbs and golfed together regularly.
"That was the one thing he could always beat me at," Brian Easter said.
Ellis described Aaron Easter as a "bright and talented, very respectful young man. He pretty much lived life to the full. It's a sad, sad day."
"You always wonder why these things happen to the best people," added Richard Vogen, who has known Robert Easter since they were gradaute students together.
Vogen, director of planning and resource development for the UI College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, said the Easters are "devout Christians. They know where their priorities lie. I'm sure that will help them through this."
Aaron Easter was an organ donor, and Brian Easter said that brings the family comfort. He said two young girls will each receive a new kidney.
"We're happy that there are several families that are going to benefit in a very good way," he said.
UI Chancellor Phyllis Wise offered her condolences Wednesday.
"Bob and Cheryl have been members of our Illinois family for so long and have given so generously in so many ways. Even though we respect their privacy during this time of tragedy, we share in their grief and want to help in any way we possibly can," Wise said.
Funeral services have not yet been scheduled.