Lisa and I called him the Galvinator. Whether it was hiking, ski touring or snowmobiling John Galvin was quite possibly the most enthusiastic and nearly savant-like backcountry explorer we’ve ever known. His enthusiasm was contagious, exciting, indeed galvanizing, and when serving for Mountain Rescue Aspen (MRA), Galvin helped save so many lives — as well as helping with closure for those lost — one could never reach a full count. Hundreds.
Yesterday, we learned John had perished in an avalanche near Aspen, Colorado. Lisa and I are grieving, devastated by the loss of such a fine man and friend, and feeling much concern about his family and Mountain Rescue colleagues. (In my recollection, over the years MRA has lost only three members in the mountains, an outstanding safety record, but of course meaningless in a personal sense.)
I met Galvin years ago, when he first began volunteering for MRA (while Lisa and I were team members as well). The man took to our Colorado backcountry like he was born to it — even though he was a city boy from Chicago. The Galvinator had a mind like a bear trap when it came to memorizing routes, and with deductive talent rivaling Sherlock Holmes he’d often “guess” where a rescue subject was, nail it perfectly, or later we’d find he’d come closer than anyone else. Even years later, just a few months ago I was involved in a ground search in which Galvin was active. He didn’t find the guy, but yet again came closer than anyone (the subject self rescued after a night out, long story).
Then there was Sloan Peak — a big event in the Dawson family, just another day (or night) for Galvin. In 2007 our son Louie was a young teen, feeling the call of the wild. He liked elk hunting, and one day embarked on a big reconnaissance hike, solo. As one of his first serious treks alone, we made sure he’d be in cell phone range, and had a GPS. But despite modern technology the area he’d explore was still a fairly remote wilderness. As young squires are wont to do, the boy got focused on his goal and hiked until nightfall, then realized he knew not how to exit other than an enormous and thus clearly dangerous nighttime re-trace of his route. After failing to start a fire for a bivvy (lesson learned), he called in, and a night rescue ensued (with a fire, we would have let the bivouac run, but with snow on the ground and clear sky, the risks of frostbite or even hypothermia were nothing to trifle with). We identified the location using GPS chords Louie phoned in. Galvin knew the exact route to get us close on ATVs, ending with a short hike through the forest to retrieve the boy. Galvinated.
Just the other day, I’d locked myself out of my truck after an MRA meeting. Galvin and I had hung out chatting and were the last to leave (the man did like to talk!). Without missing a beat, he offered me a ride home — an extra 25 miles of driving. That’s the kind of guy he was. During that same conversation, Galvin shared that “back in Chicago, I loved playing baseball, being on a team… not much of that going on around here compared to the city so I joined up with MRA as a team, that’s what I love, the team.”
Thanks Galvinator, for all you did, all the people you helped, the lives you touched. You will be remembered by your team, and many many others.
Statement from Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo and Mountain Rescue Aspen President Justin Hood (lightly edited)
Pitkin County, Colorado – Monday, April 9, 2018 – It is with great sadness that we identify 57-year-old John Galvin, a Roaring Fork Valley resident and 30-year veteran of MRA as the individual killed in the avalanche in the Maroon Bowl on Sunday, April 8, 2018. This same avalanche injured Galvin’s skiing partner, who was able to call for assistance and successfully self-rescued. Avalanche conditions on Sunday, April 8, 2018, prevented recovery crews from entering the avalanche zone in the Maroon Bowl. (Editor’s note: so far as we know, Galvin was NOT on any sort of official Mountain Rescue mission during his accident.)
Moving forward, the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office has requested the assistance of professional snow safety personnel from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) to participate in the recovery mission. CAIC personnel will work with Aspen Highlands Ski Patrol this week to provide snow safety assessments which will be used to determine the best time and date to recover Galvin’s body. Due to current conditions there will be no attempts to recover Galvin’s body Monday, April 9, 2018.
“John was a dedicated and professional public safety volunteer, who unselfishly gave his time to our community over 30 years.” – Joe DiSalvo, Pitkin County Sheriff
As one can imagine, the members of both agencies, but specifically the all-volunteer rescuers from Mountain Rescue Aspen are particularly impacted by this loss…
“John helped save lives of hundreds of visitors and locals who were in need while injured or stranded in our mountains. John will be missed by all on our team and in our community.” – Justin Hood, MRA President
As is routine in search and rescue missions in Pitkin County, all media inquiries should be directed to Operations Commander Alex Burchetta with the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office.
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.