Perhaps you are reading this.
Me, I believe people live on after they pass, so yeah, you might be checking this out. Or perhaps you’ve got better things to do…
In any event, I’m of course alluding to one of the great mysteries of life (if not THE mystery) — a mystery every last one of us will know the answer to eventually — as I suppose you do now.
Mysteries are familiar to us alpinists, are they not?
It is easy to imagine you and Chris up there on that Teton peak avalanche path last Wednesday. You were talking about the snow stability, the weather, the ski run you anticipated, what time you’d need to return to get your town tasks done. You probably had good reasons to think climbing that thing was ok, but the mystery of knowing-for-sure about the snow stability would have been as present in your day as a 20,000 foot alpine thunderstorm lofting on the horizon.
I know, because I’ve minded that mystery so many times myself. We take the data, process it, go or no-go. Easy to be right. Easy to be wrong. Too easy, really. Mystery.
I could sit here as a blogger and keyboard like a drunken fool about what you were doing up there. And if I’d messed up instead of you, you’d probably have been tempted to do the same. Hard. After all, you chose the blogger path. As did I. Yeah, we’d both be tempted.
After all: I am, therefore I blog? I can see us raising a glass and a laugh at that little bit of silliness — but with a hint of irony because we both know truth is buried in there, however painful.
In your case I don’t see need for much in the way of technical examination. We all know you chose to ski the steeps of the Tetons, at times when avalanches were possible, and thus something bad could happen. Pretty obvious you knew that too. I’d sound like an idiot if I tried to deny that — if I attempted to sugar coat the greater circumstances leading up to your death. Wherever you are now, the moment you saw me equivocating you’d slap your computer screen, groan, and start editing your wildlife photos — anything but reading Lou blabbing on about your screwup and how you were some kind of innocent babe in the snow that the mountain got the better of — or conversely, someone who ignored safety procedures and protocols. You were not those things. Sometimes to a fault, (as you so abundantly shared on your blog), you were not an innocent.
I had immense respect for the game you played. It takes amazing smarts and no small amount of boldness to ski the winter steeps. Brain and courage, are not those an ideal? Yes, they are, and that’s why alpinists like you serve humanity. Like any explorer, you show us the extent of our human capacity for excellence, in turn, inspiring us to do well in any endeavor.
At the same time what you did was not a game for everyone, and I know you’d agree it should not be superficially glorified. Mine and others’ respect should not be taken for blanket approval. If I may don my “old guy” hat for a moment, I’d remind any of you cubs out there to be very conscious and mindful if you choose to take up ski alpinism as Steve did. You will inspire people. You will lead a grand life with immense personal satisfaction. You might even make a living — or at least get a free pair of skis. But you might pay the ultimate price. Lecture over.
Steve, also, while the inspiration from your adventures and subsequent publishing endeavors could be brilliant, in many cases it was also somewhat mundane. In a good way. I’m talking about things like your invoking a high-five raised above the grey muck of a cube farm on a beater Thursday morning. Sure, guys taking their morning “ski and coffee” web browsing break could just be looking for raw entertainment, but I have no doubt the inspiration and positive vibe you brought to those folks was still an important gift. Not everyone can be a ski bum. But everyone can be inspired by a ski bum.
And if I have my statistics right, most of those guys in those offices and shops would get out skiing eventually. Perhaps more, and better, and having more fun, thanks to you.
Your work also spoke to fellow alpinists who’d been or were still operating at your level. Your voice caused us to pause and for a moment harken back to the pure visceral joy of climbing up and skiing down a big line, a happiness so inexplicably knotted in our human core we will sacrifice all to achieve it, as you did.
Oh, I just remembered something. Yeah, it seems kind of trivial now to talk about our respective blog business endeavors. Yet a few things do come to mind that might amuse you or our readers. After all, I blog…
As we spoke together about many times, your blogging started a few years after WildSnow began. We did work together during the birth process of TetonAT, starting with you doing some guest blogging at WildSnow, then me agreeing to help you out by linking to your nascent website and thus providing an instant traffic source. Really, we were both clueless back in those days. Me just far enough ahead to look like a genius — at least to myself anyway. What I remember so clearly about things since then is how friendly you always were to me as you grew larger and made your own mark.
In the end, you made me a better person because I learned how to be gracious in business. More, you helped me to see the humor in our trivial competition for reader numbers (many read both, as we came to know), and we did have some hilarious conversations about how irrationally sensitive to criticism some of the gear makers are (as well as commiserating on how to offer gear opinions, but still find some sponsors).
I also remember how your posture would change, your eyes perk up and your ears wriggle when I started hinting at just-who-was-buying-what when it came to advertising. And just how many readers did WildSnow.com have? It never occurred to me at the time, but I’ll bet I was telegraphing the same when you’d start hinting your details. After all, neither you nor I were the stone Trumps of the web world. We were just a couple of skiers become hackers, really, who discovered their voices.
Your voice was fun, a bit zany at times, exciting. Truly and enjoyably unique; fun to watch as you found it and developed it. Any would-be blogger can learn from your journey, and I hope your content remains published for us all to enjoy for years from now.
Yes, the questions will be asked. The mystery is there — always filling the room when these sorts of things happen. Steve, is your sacrifice ok? The pain you caused your loved ones and friends? The cutting short of your own life, that could have led to so many things: creative works; children?
Way greater minds than mine have attempted the answers.
Beyond my feeble efforts above, let me simply say to you that I know you chose your path, that you were mindful. Thanks for the gifts you gave us from that, and your smile along the way.
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.