Ellie Soutter Was in a 'Good Mood' Before Sudden Death on Her 18th Birthday, Says Close Friend

The close friends and family of British snowboarder Ellie Soutter are still trying to process her death, a week after she disappeared in the ski resort of Les Gets, France.

Soutter – who was recently selected to represent Team GB at the 2022 Winter Olympics – was found dead, deep in the woods last Wednesday, on her 18th birthday.

“Everyone is still in shock and can’t understand why it happened,” close friend Ryan Pelluchon, 22, tells PEOPLE. “We still — as a group — find it very hard to understand. It’s just devastating really.”

Authorities have yet to announce an official cause of Soutter’s death, but her father, Tony Soutter, 53, told the BBC that the intense pressures of elite sport, coupled with his daughter’s pre-existing mental health issues, may have contributed to her ending her life. “She wanted to be the best,” Tony told the BBC on Tuesday. “She didn’t want to let anybody down.”

Now, friends are struggling to make sense of Soutter’s sudden death.

Says Pelluchon, “The last people who saw her, left her and she was in a good mood. A few of her friends went out for her birthday at midnight, and then left her in her bed. Her dad said, ‘happy birthday’, left for work and that’s the last we heard.”

Soutter’s funeral is scheduled to take place in Les Gets on Thursday, followed by a private cremation. It is expected that hundreds of mourners will attend, following the huge outpouring of emotion since her death. Last Friday, Soutter’s tight-knit group of ski and snowboard buddies also commemorated her life in their own, very touching way.

“We had a big thing planned on Friday for her birthday, but we still went to the same place and let go of about 120 lanterns in the sky for her in the mountains,” says Pelluchon — who describes her dad, Tony, as being “very strong” during the tribute.

“He is as good as he can be,” he adds. “We’ve just got to be there for him now.”

Together with Soutter’s mother, Lorraine Denman, 50, Tony Soutter has launched a new GoFundMe campaign, to “continue fundraising under Ellie’s name for young winter athletes that need financial assistance to achieve their potential and dreams – in much the same way as Ellie” did.

“The fund that her dad has put together for British future athletes is, I think, very special,” says Pelluchon. “It’s great because Ellie always struggled a tiny bit. My father owns a restaurant here and we always did some fundraisers and stuff like that, which helped her a lot. So, I think that fund’s very important.”

In the meantime Soutter’s friends are planning another personal tribute for when the winter snow arrives in Les Gets later this year.

“We’re going to do a big ride for her,” adds Pelluchon. “We’ve spoken about it already.”

“Ellie was always smiling, always wanting to do stuff — but a completely different person when she was on a snowboard. Just how determined she was to follow you on a snowboard and how determined she was in life was pretty impressive.

“She would get in the zone. The Ellie we knew snowboarding was a bit different to the Ellie we knew without the helmet. Just way more determined to do everything as well as possible.”

Pelluchon continues, “Speaking one day to such a mature and wonderful person and not being able to speak to her the next … is what hurts the most.”

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