BELMONT -- The last photo on Lindsey Van Why's camera roll was of a caution sign at the top of an icy Lake Tahoe trail reading "Trees Don't Move," a haunting glimpse into the Belmont father of two's final thoughts.

"I don't know why he took that picture, and I don't know what it meant," said wife Robin Van Why. "But he didn't come back after that."

Van Why, a 43-year-old safety engineer known to his loved ones as a "true adventurer" whose compassion and generosity doled out daily lessons to all who knew him, was killed in a Valentine's Day ski accident after veering into a tree just off the Cascade Trail.

Authorities told family members that the experienced skier, who his wife said "could have been a professional," appeared to have hit a patch of ice on his way down the trail he had skied so many times before. His best friend rushed to his side after seeing him down out of the corner of his eye, screaming pleas for help to overhead lift riders as he found his friend unconscious with a faint pulse.

"And then he was gone," said Robin Van Why, who was at her best friend's Truckee cabin with her 9- and 4-year-old sons when her husband's accident occurred. "He died on the mountain in his best friend's arms."

'It only takes that one time'

The morning of Lindsey Van Why's death began like many others for the outdoor enthusiast and family man, on a President's Day weekend ski getaway with his wife, family friends, and sons, Tanner and Cooper.

"My little adventure boys are the spitting image of their father," Robin Van Why said. "He taught them a love of nature, a love of the outdoors, and most of all, a love for other people."

The family kissed their father goodbye as he went off for a "Dad's Ski Day" with his best friend, donning his leather "fun hat" adorned with pins from his travels in lieu of his usual helmet.

"It was a freak accident. He was too good of a skier, and it was such a simple run," Robin Van Why said. "I want everyone to know that even if you think you can defy the odds, wear a helmet so you can be safe. It only takes that one time."

The momentary lapse in safety came as a huge irony for the man who made safety his career and priority, stating in his bio at Milpitas-based XL Construction that his favorite part of the job was "sending his employees home safely to their families."

"He was someone you could count on, and his word was gold. He really made everyone around him feel like he cared and many of us confided in him in regards to our work and home life," said Erick Martin, who worked with Van Why for two years at XL Construction. "He loved his family more than anything, and it showed in his eyes when he spoke of them."

Co-workers said the man took pride in his work and put all of his energy into being the best job safety coordinator he could be, but would always be off in time to pick up his kids from school, help them with their homework, and coach Tanner's baseball team as he had for the past six years.

"That's what he taught everyone--to be safe and love your family," Robin Van Why said. "We were a foursome to be reckoned with -- he taught me and our boys about life and about love, and about how to live life to the fullest."

The man's friends expressed similar sentiments about the lessons he imparted with or without intention, and described feeling "lost" and "reeling" from the death of their longtime, intensely loyal friend. He was a "magnet," they said, drawing in thousands of people with his warmth and his love over the course of his short lifetime.

"He was the glue that kept everyone together, the planner, the picture taker," said Michelle Tuggle, the man's childhood friend of more than 30 years. "I'm just so proud of how he turned out. Just look at this beautiful life he made."

A community's support

The family returned from Placer County to an incredible showing of community support Friday, with residents coming out in droves to offer assistance and make plans for the two young boys. The Belmont community made up a significant fraction of the 253 families who donated nearly $33,000 to a memorial fund by Friday afternoon, a demonstration of love and support for which Robin Van Why "could not be more grateful."

"The community of Belmont is unbelievable," Robin Van Why said. "This is an outpouring of support Lindsey would have been so proud to witness."

In addition to the online fundraiser to offset immediate costs and start an education fund for the two young boys, donations can be made to the Van Why Family Memorial Fund at any Bank of the West branch. Donations can still be made on the original fundraising site at http://www.youcaring.com/memorial-fundraiser/support-the-van-why-family/139599.

A celebration of life affectionately titled "Lindsey's Last Toast" is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. March 15 at Twin Pines Community Center. Family members invite anyone whose life was touched by the man to attend, and ask that they share in the spirit of the celebration by bringing a story about him to tell.

"It's exactly what he would have wanted -- he was quite a storyteller, and he lived quite the story," his wife added. "The only thing that gives me peace is that he died doing what he loved. And I'm going to miss him every day for the rest of my life."

Contact Erin Ivie at eivie@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow her at Twitter.com/erin_ivie.