A widely publicized and far-reaching accident took place in Washington’s Stevens Pass backcountry exactly a year ago, last Feb.19. An avalanche claimed the lives of three iconic locals - Chris Rudolph, Jim Jack, and John Brenan - and the Stevens landscape was forever changed. I arrived at Stevens just a few days after that avalanche, along with feet of new snow. The turns were all-time, but I felt a pang of guilt celebrating the power of powder when it had just taken three lives and brought sorrow to countless others. The chair lift rides spanned many highs and lows; soul-searching climbs through the mist. I published the following story after my Stevens experience, and it still resonates with me. Maybe you’ll find some meaning in it, too. -MH
My Deepest Days - (Written in late Feb., 2012.)
Seattle is drenched in winter rain, cold, and the sidewalk outside the Sea-Tac terminal is mostly vacant. Cars are splashing by, drivers honk at any sign of hesitation and swerve in NASCAR fashion to leapfrog one car, then another. I’m curbside, waiting on a 31-foot 1999 Fleetwood Jamboree GT that’s towing two Ural Motorcycles and is loaded down with food, beer, gear and a crew of writers and photographers. We’re headed to Stevens Pass, where it’s been pounding snow and there’s a ton more in the forecast.
It’s late February, and I just flew in from a nine-day snowboard trip to Interior British Columbia that was fat with powder turns and lean on tracks. In the midst of the storm cycle, which hammered the whole Northwest, I got word of an avalanche in Stevens Pass backcountry. Three local men were killed—Chris Rudolph, Jim Jack, and John Brenan.
Chris is the reason I’m headed to Stevens; he’s their marketing director and ironed out many of the details of this upcoming trip. I never met Chris, though I was looking forward to ripping around Stevens with him. We did exchange occasional emails over the years, like this one, which he sent July 2010 with the subject line: “Stevens Pass is Stoked.”
“Hey StokeLab Scientists, We’re Stoked. Awesome work, you stoked out the end of a ‘there’s-no-snow-left-mosquito-filled-I-wish-it-was-winter’ hot summer day at a ski area.” —Chris Rudolph
The RV rolls up, I chuck my bags in and within moments have a beer in hand. It’s great to see Jake Hanson and Ryan Hayter, who along with Chris put this trip together. Despite the recent tragedy, they said the folks at Stevens had insisted we still come, that Chris would’ve wanted it that way.
The next two days of riding are all-time, easily my deepest days of the year. Jake lives in Seattle and rides here often, and he leads us down run after run of rime-caked trees and waist-deep turns. At one point I pop blind off a pillow and air to flat, completely turtled in my own bombhole. All day long we slash turns, pop pillows and air to bottomless landings. We laugh and crash and ramble on with every incantation of “DEEP!” in the English language.
All the while we know this ride is Chris Rudolph’s creation. During one of our last spins on the lift, talk of heavy legs and ranking these recent days among the all-time greats dominates the conversation. There’s a brief silence, before Jake says the only thing that matters: “Chris would be proud.” —Mike Horn