Truckee man dies in ski accident
When Mihai “M.C.” Constantinescu’s friends remember him, two things first come to mind – his boundless energy and big heart. The second thing they remember is his love for moving fast. He got joy from seeing his friends experience life, and delighted in memories of his Romanian past.
An avid skier and bungee jumper, Constantinescu was part of a tight-knit community of Squaw Valley skiers who shared a passion for living life on the edge. Constantinescu’s death last week on the slopes of Squaw Valley comes as a shock to his friends, who were already in the midst of remembering another fallen comrade who died on a mountain a year ago this month.
Constantinescu, a 31-year old Truckee resident and 10-year Tahoe local, was killed Friday around 3 p.m. after he separated from friends on the Olympic Lady run off the KT-22 chairlift, the Placer County Sheriff’s department reported. Constantinescu apparently lost control and fell into a tree well. Pending the outcome of a coroner’s investigation, it is unclear if he died from colliding with the tree or suffocating from the snow load.
A well-known figure around Squaw Valley, Constantinescu was a bartender at High Camp as well as Moody’s Bistro. But he was best known for his contagious energy and unconditional friendship.
“He was the most generous people person I ever met,” said Tom Wayes, who first met Constantinescu in college in Vermont. “He was always stoked, always fired up for his friends.”
“He had the biggest heart I’ve ever known, he was always so giving,” said skier Darian Boyle, recounting how Constantinescu drove her stuff from Colorado to her home in New Jersey in two and a half days after she broke her leg at the Winter X-Games. “He was a madman with the biggest heart, he would do anything for me.”
Constantinescu, whose biggest thrill besides skiing was bungee jumping, would often take friends for a bridge jump just to see them experience the rush.
“He was not fired up for jumping, he was fired up for you to jump,” said friend Steven Siig. “He got such a kick out of watching his bros have fun.”
Friends believe his positive outlook and zest for life stems from his childhood in Romania during the 1970s. Constantinescu’s family struggled to survive under the tight-fisted Communist grip, standing in line for hours for bread, eggs and flours, and being followed by secret police when they tried to leave the country. His father, an Olympic wrestler, died in an earthquake in Bucharest when Constantinescu was 5 years old.
Two years later, Constantinescu and his mother fled to Greece. In a short autobiography entitled “Psychology of Personal Growth,” Constantinescu recounts how they were helped by the Romanian National Volleyball Team after members overheard his mother crying in the Athens airport.
“When you fight and struggle to get ahead, you don’t take anything for granted,” said John Davis, who met Constantinescu in 1992 and went for his first rope swing with him a few months ago. “He realized the more friends he had, the more things would all fall into place.”
After making their way to New York, Constantinescu and his mother had to start from scratch. She worked as a nurse for a few years, eventually learning to drive and becoming a taxi driver on the night shift. Constantinescu, who spent a lot of time in the cab with his mom, later founded Fast Taxi in Tahoe before selling the business to two friends.
Constantinescu’s generosity extended to his company. Siig remembered how Constantinescu would drive him home from a bar but refuse to accept any money.
“He’d say ‘to get you home safe is payment enough for me,'” recalled Siig.
While friends say Constantinescu always had a smile on his face, he suffered his share of tragedies. In 1998, his friend and bungee partner Dano Osman died in Yosemite in a jumping accident while Constantinescu and others were talking to him via cell phone. Seven months later, Frank Gambalie, Constantinescu’s roommate and a BASE jumper, returned to Yosemite to jump off El Capitan in honor of Osman. He drowned while running from the park rangers.
In 2001, Constantinescu’s mother died of liver failure, and last April his friend Aaron Martin died while scaling Mount St. Elias in Alaska. In a strange irony, Constantinescu’s Squaw Valley ski pass pictured him holding a photo of Martin. Many of Constantinescu’s friends were deciding how to mark the one-year anniversary of Martin’s death on April 8 when they learned of Constantinescu’s accident.
His friends take some comfort in knowing that Constantinescu is in good company wherever he is.
“M.C. lost Dano, then Gambalie, then Aaron. It was almost like they needed M.C. with him. I am sure they are all together hucking and skiing,” said Siig. “Thank God those guys got each other, but we’re the ones missing them.”
“He lost so many friends but stayed so positive,” said Boyle. “We have to be strong like M.C.”
A memorial service was held at the Queen of the Snows Catholic Church in Squaw Valley on Wednesday. Constantinescu’s friends plan on taking his ashes back to his grandparents in Romania, his only living relatives.
Though Constantinescu’s friends are heartbroken at his death, they plan on continuing to live life to its fullest – skiing and jumping and driving fast – just like Constantinescu, Osman, Gambalie, and Martin would.
“You can’t stop,” said jumping and skiing partner Jason Shields. “None of them would want you to stop.”
An honor service for Mihai Constantinescu will be held at noon today on the back deck of the Olympic House at Squaw Valley.
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