"We lost one of the best people ever to walk the earth."
- Frank Konsella
I spent a lot of time in the backcountry this winter. Don't know why exactly. Maybe it was the Olympic hoopla and all those blue Smurfs invading our slopes. Maybe it was the claustrophobia I felt at living in a virtual concentration camp for two months. Maybe it's just that I got tired of sitting in the Peak lineup for an hour and a half for one good powder run. Whatever. The more time I spent climbing to earn my turns, the better I felt about life...
Still, there wasn't a moment I spent out there when I wasn't conscious of the dangers inherent in taking responsibility for myself in the mountains. Every climb, every descent, every rest stop even - there was never a time that I consciously let down my guard. No matter how bombproof the snow felt, no matter how low-angled the descent appeared to be. I knew that the sleeping dragon lying just below the surface could wake at any time. And with devastating consequences.
But the sublime pleasures of seeking your own path up and down the mountain - of spying new peaks and new routes in the distance, of sharing magical moments with like-minded partners miles away from civilization, of tearing into lunch on a high crest on a lonely mountain top, of dropping countless vertical feet in untouched powder while the sun drops slowly on the western horizon - well, it made the risks that much more bearable.
I was fortunate this winter. For all the miles I logged offpiste, for all the questionable decisions I made (and we all make lots), I survived avalanche season unscathed. But others weren't so lucky.
Two deaths hit me particularly hard this winter. One struck really close to home. The other reminded me yet again how often it seems that "only the good die young."
I first met Ifor Thomas nearly 30 years ago. He was my youngest brother's friend - a kid who'd grown up in Jasper, Alberta with a fierce love for outdoor sports. But more than that even. He and my brother seemed kindred souls.
Over the years, Robert and Ifor would form an adventure partnership that others in the backcountry community would speak of with awe. World-class kayakers, the two men pioneered new paddling routes from the foot of Mt Robson all the way to the Arctic Ocean. In winter, when the rivers froze, the duo would turn to ski-touring and explore the local mountains with glee. Theirs was an enviable friendship.