There are a lot of people hurting in our community right now — five people will never be seen alive again by their friends, families, loved ones. Fully five, that’s FIVE well known ski & snowboard mountaineers dying in avalanches over about a week’s time. Sebastian Haag and Andrea Zambaldi near the summit of Shisha Pangma. Then J.P. Auclair and Andreas Franson in a couloir in Chile.
And when it seemed like it couldn’t get any worse, we heard about well known and spirited split boarder Liz Daley dying in Argentine Patagonia, ostensibly swept over a cliff or cornice by, yes, an avalanche.
Lisa and I knew two of these people (Daley and Haag). Our son Louie knew Liz quite well. We all were amazed and inspired by Fransson. Likewise, many of you WildSnow readers knew some of these guys, perhaps all. This is huge in our community, just huge. I’ve been feeling strange for days now and finally realized I’m just numb with shock and grief.
The departed would want us to handle it well, I’m certain. It’s trite to say, but these five people knew the risks and made their choices. They’re not asking for sympathy, rather, they’re probably asking that we handle their loss in a way that honors their love of the mountains and the inspiration they so generously provided all those of us who watched what they did. Nonetheless, this is hard. Grief is the word.
I’ve read some takes that summarize as “get over it, people die all the time all over the world, what’s any different about a climber or skier?” Nope, that’s not the key. Most people who live the dream life we have in First World countries don’t have their friends and associates frequently dying while pursuing their passions. Not judging here, only looking at the reality. When we ski alpinists have to process the deaths of five this week, numerous last winter, Romeo and Onufer before that — and Coombs — it’s just hard, it feels like things are out of kilter. I mean, to enjoy this sport do you have to die doing it?
Is our sport really this dangerous? Indeed, that’s a whole blog post. Won’t go there now, except to say that yes it is dangerous if you do dangerous stuff — and that it can also be done quite safely if you make certain kinds of choices. I’m waxing sophomoric. Like I said, we’ll not go there now.
What I’m talking about here is grief, and how to deal with it. Yes, if you’re reading this it’s pretty likely you knew one of these five individuals. Or if you didn’t know them personally, in the case of famous skiers such as J.P. or Fransson you felt close to them anyway, as a fan. That engenders grief as well.
So how to deal with all this? If you find yourself dazed and numb, see if doing some action off a list helps. I got this from HelpGuide.org and added some things.
Turn to friends and family members – Talk it out, or just revel in being close to those you care about. Celebrate life. Have a special dinner, call it a memorial or wake so you have some focus and can process feelings.
Draw comfort from your faith – Whatever your spiritual or religious feelings, now is the time to bring that to the front.
Take care with self medication – Regarding substances, alcohol etc., they have no healing effect, they’re only short-term fixes (if that). If you do find yourself needing medication for insomnia or depression, seek the help of a medical professional.
Join a support group or see a therapist/counselor – If you’re having a lot of trouble coping, don’t hesitate to get help.
Be careful about obsessing on details of accidents – A certain amount of curiosity is healthy. We can often learn from events. But too much web browsing to get the last details can be unhealthy obsession. Try to leave yourself with good memories, not a bunch of terrifying facts that can manifest in fear, depression and constant worry.
Go to the mountains – We are mountaineers, alpinists; just as those who passed in these accidents we derive much of our physical and spiritual food from the high and wild. Take action. Go there and celebrate those who are gone. Do it your own way — just as they did it their way. Do something you love with someone you love. Have a picnic, cut firewood, climb a mountain, or ski a couloir, no pressure, be safe, focus on the positive. That’s how we can eulogize these five fine individuals.
Commenters, I’d love to hear your thoughts on how to cope with grief as well as honor the departed.
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.