A voice crackled from a loudspeaker, drowning out the swishing and laughter of snow-sliders on the slopes. “Let’s please observe a moment of silence for our friends and loved ones who lost their lives here last week,” the voice requested.
Just one week before my visit to Steven’s Pass ski area, a deadly avalanche ripped down the backside of the mountain outside the resort property and buried several skiers. While most of the group survived, three members were sadly killed in the slide.
The incident was the state’s most deadly avalanche in years, and among the lost was Chris Rudolph, the marketing director for Steven’s Pass. Chillingly, Rudolph was supposed to be a guide on my trip for the weekend, and standing at the base of the mountain, in that moment of silence, I grieved his loss with people in our group who knew him and called him a friend.
It was from that melancholy moment my day of powder riding began. Rudolph and his friends had geared up at the base of this same mountain with similar high hopes of an amazing day riding in trees and bowls through deep snow. It was a humbling reminder for me that life is precious, but it is also worth living to its fullest, I believe. And so we strapped in and got onto the ski lift. The chairs rose on the cable, and we floated up and into the white.
For the whole weekend, I savored every turn, every loft, and even the flailing cartwheels when I misjudged and tumbled down. The mood was set from the start, though as we lapped run after run and had time to drift into our own experience we forgot some about the recent sadness. Our moods lifted and we decided to just ride and live looking forward, not back.
The trip kicked off in an RV, with a crew of 10 guys rolling up from Seattle into a milky-white Snoqualmie Pass. None of us knew we’d soon be 30 inches deep in the stuff, a weekend of fresh powder that was starting out with a whiteout drive over the pass, into the Cascades.
Thigh-high powder turns became the order of the day and we grinned from top to bottom of every run. We rode the lift-served runs until tracks overwhelmed the slopes, then we ducked into the trees. A short traverse and there was always an untouched tree run to score first turns.
“This is siiiick!” shouted Craig Weatherby, a new friend and a photographer on the trip. I caught up to him halfway down the slope. His face and body were dusted from the dry, fluffy powder, which was more rare for the Northwest. In search of less populated runs, we’d gathered on the backside of the mountain. We exchanged quick fist-bumps and leaned down into the valley below.
While we grieved with the Steven’s Pass community for the loss of their friends, we also recognized the joy that outdoor adventure brought to their lives.
Maybe I am slightly off in the context, but Thoreau nailed this theme long ago, writing that “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life.” Thoreau continued, that he hoped to “see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
Rest in peace, Chris Rudolph, Jim Jack, and Johnny Brenan. Rest in peace knowing that you lived, true and full, a life some people might never see.
—T.C. Worley is a contributing editor.