Joshua Randich, who died in a speed flying crash last weekend in the Eagle River Valley, was a key Alaska figure in an advanced form of paragliding that incorporates skiing.
The 33-year-old Girdwood resident died Sunday afternoon after he took off on foot from a ridge near Mount Magnificent in Eagle River. His friend Dan Starr said the area is a common spot for paragliding and speed flying, which is what Randich was doing at the time of his death: paragliding with a smaller wing that allows pilots to fly low and fast down mountainsides. He wasn’t on skis that day.
“He was doing what I’ve seen him do hundreds and hundreds of times,” Starr said.
Starr was taking photos and videos of Randich when he disappeared from sight. Starr said he heard Randich’s wing collapse, which can happen for a variety of reasons. When a wing collapses, all or part of it deflates or may tuck under itself.
“I think it’s pertinent to know that he didn’t necessarily make an error,” Starr said. “I don’t know, we won’t know. But he had a wing collapse and it caused a crash.”
Randich was taken to the hospital by an Alaska Air National Guard helicopter, troopers said. He was pronounced dead at the hospital.
Randich’s death, the first fatal paragliding accident in Alaska in recent years, came as a shock to his friends and those within the outdoor community.
He had an “endless energy for other people” and was eager to help anyone learn more about the sport — he was always the person to organize outings, Starr said.
When a pilot using that smaller wing takes off on foot, it’s considered speed flying; when skis are incorporated, it’s called speed riding. Randich did both, with a particular passion for speed riding.
He provided a glimpse of the extreme sport in the hundreds of videos he posted on social media, where viewers could often see the mountain from his perspective as he glided through the air before carving through fresh powder on his skis and then floating back into the air.
Randich grew up in Anchorage and had been skiing since he was a child, his friend Scott Rich said. He was a naturally gifted athlete whose life revolved around the sport, his friends said.
He became interested in speed riding before he developed a serious hip injury that made it painful to ski, Starr said. But after he had a hip replacement in 2018, Randich fully immersed himself in the sport.
Randich picked up speed riding quickly, Starr said. He spent time in Salt Lake City to become certified and later went to France to learn more, Rich said.
Randich described speed riding as living his dream in a 2021 “Indie Alaska” feature: “It’s like a total Zen moment — you’re up in the air, your legs dangling, but you don’t feel scared. You get this bliss feeling, and that just blew me away and was a feeling I couldn’t ignore,” he said in the short documentary.
Within a few years, Randich was at the center of Alaska’s speed-riding community, Starr said.
“Doing what he was doing on that speed wing, he was leading that charge for sure,” Rich said. “Speed flying with the skis and actually skiing with the wing — he was the guy. He was the one kind of pioneering that up here. Everyone else kind of stays in the air and doesn’t really keep their skis on the ground. He just looked completely different than most other speed flyers up here.”
Randich was a good decision-maker in the backcountry, even while pursuing challenging and technical feats, Starr said.
“He had done it safely and really just maintained a pretty incredible record of safety over all the years with hardly any injuries or any close calls. Everybody has some of those things, but when you look at what he did and how long he did it and the level, you would expect to see a lot more incidents than there were,” Starr said. “I think it was just a testament to his decision making and his approach to the mountains.”
In the niche sports of paragliding and speed flying, the U.S. has seen fewer than 10 fatalities each year since 2019, based on reports compiled by the U.S. Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association, though its data may be incomplete.
Randich’s death is a massive loss for those who knew him from the slopes or even just from around Girdwood, Rich said. He was “a skiing legend in this community,” Rich said.
Randich was the kind of guy who enveloped everyone — even strangers — in his “bear hugs” and never shied from telling his friends he loved them, Starr said. He lived with passion and was quick to make the people around him laugh, his friend Matt Bertke said.
“He was one of those people that seemed like everywhere he went something incredible or funny would happen,” Bertke said. “I think that was a reflection of the energy he brought with him. ... We were all incredibly lucky to have had him in our lives. I hope we can all learn to approach life with the same passion that he had.”