By Allen Best
SILVERTON, Colo. – In her own way, Dolores LaChapelle may have been one of the original ski bums. LaChapelle spent her life among the snows of the West, from Banff to Aspen, and from Alta to her final decades in Silverton, where she died recently at the age of 82.
But to call her a ski bum — a term actually of admiration, not condescension — does not fully convey what she was about. She was a thinker and a writer and a stirrer of the pot. “She moved easily in a world of big ideas, just as she skied fearlessly in deep powder snow, letting the flow take her down the mountain. Leaving us to follow in her tracks,” wrote one of her friends, Art Goodtimes, in The Telluride Watch.
She was born in Louisville, Ky., but grew up in Denver, learning to ski in the very first days of mechanized skiing, when rope tows and then chairlifts were erected along the Continental Divide. After World War II and graduating Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Denver, she taught skiing at Aspen and then, as wife of avalanche and snow science pioneer Ed LaChapelle, skied at Alta.
LaChapelle was credited with the first ski ascents of chisel-shaped, glacier-covered Mt. Columbia, the second highest peak in the Canadian Rockies, and Snow Dome, the hydrographic apex of the continent. Both are located in Jasper National Park, on the Alberta-British Columbia border.
“I wish you could have been with her on the morning after a new powder snowfall as she was hurrying out the door of our home in Alta to embrace the day,” remembered her son, David, writing in the Silverton Standard. “She had little use for niceties as a most important appointment was to be kept: the exhilaration and free fall of dancing with millions of ice crystals under the sun in the mountains.”
He added: “This embrace of motion, mountain and life swept my mother into a deep affirmation of the world of the spirit, obvious in her delight and excitement at being able to once again turn her skis down the mountain and let go.”
Moving to Silverton, by herself, she made a living writing books, publishing seven altogether from 1969 to 1996. She wrote often of the connection between the external and internal landscapes linked in powder skiing.
“Beyond the scholar, writer, and intellectual was a woman who was passionate about wanting others to experience the connection she felt,” said her son. “This was her service, which she performed every day of her life. She was not always gentle in this service, but she was always fierce with her love, for she had little time for the ways in which we humans conspire to ignore the pulse of life as it flows through the earth, the trees, the sky and the beating of our hearts.”