photo: Court Leve. KT-22, Squaw Valley, USA.
It’s no secret that Squaw has had an unfortunate series of untimely deaths. I was thinking of writing an article about it, but it just hits too close to home for me. Cody Townsend manned up and wrote this article for ESPN that reflects upon the great people we’ve lost lately. The list is impressive and sad: Randal Davis, the three young squaw employee ladies who passed away in the Squaw parking lot, legendary patrollers Eski, Don Schott, & Larry Hazard, Robert Frolich, CR Johnson, Shane McConkey, Arne Backstrom, Kip Garre, Alison Kreutzen, Pascal Huega (although he was 102), and Pablo Olivas. And this is all since 2009.
Ok, here’s Cody’s story from ESPN:
In sports and life, mythological curses are sometimes blamed for tragic chains of misfortune. For instance, when an accident in his Porsche Spyder sports car took the life of James Dean in 1955, the car then became entangled in a five-year-long series of tragedies that killed a race car driver, maimed a mechanic and brought mysterious woe to many who encountered it. The vehicle, it was said, had to be cursed.
In the freeskiing world, for the Squaw Valley community that I live in, it feels like we’re driving that Porsche right now. For the past couple of years, we seem to been trapped in a vortex of misfortune — we keep losing our own people, one tragic accident at a time.
Randy Davis, a local up-and-coming freestyle skier, was killed at Squaw in an inbounds avalanche on Christmas day in 2008. We lost longtime Squaw legend Shane McConkey to a ski BASE accident in Italy in 2009. Andrew Entin, a much-loved career ski patroller, died while conducting avalanche control at Squaw in 2009. Then CR Johnson perished in an inbounds crash at Squaw Valley in 2010. Squaw’s Arne Backstrom passed away in a ski mountaineering fall in Peru in 2010. And then, a couple of weeks ago, locals Kip Garre and Allison Kreutzen were killed by a backcountry avalanche in the southern Sierra Nevada mountains.
Of course, the greater freeskiing community suffered tragedies during the last few years as well — we lost the lives of pro skiers Billy Poole, Jack Hannan, John Nicolleta, Ryan Hawks, and countless other skiers. But the sheer number of deaths from Squaw seemed to be heart-wrenchingly high. We couldn’t help but think it: Is the Squaw community cursed?
At this point, our tenets of faith — karma, justice, providence — have been torn down. We question everything. How can it be that our heroes, friends and family are being ripped away from the Squaw Valley community so methodically?
Even though the phone call notifying me of Kip’s death was the same as the phone call for Shane’s, it doesn’t get any easier. Each time, the caller ID bears the name of a friend I haven’t talked to in weeks. The “hellos” and “how are yous?” are abbreviated, hesitant pauses implicate the caller is searching for the right words. And then the chest-tightening, breath-stopping, swear-inducing message comes through: “Shane/CR/Arne/Kip … is dead.”
Kip & Allison
Thousands have gathered in the Olympic Village Inn ballroom time and time again and hung their heads at the multitude of funerals. In fact, by the age of 28, I’ve been to twice the amount funerals than weddings. We all have drank far too many beers tinged with tears. We’ve watched our resident spiritual guru, Ladd Williams, give his Native American prayer of passing so many times, I nearly have it memorized.
But perhaps we have gotten stronger through this painful process. Not stronger in the face of death, but stronger in the appreciation of life. For all of the departed skiers, their commonplace would have been miraculous in most circles. Although they all died before we wanted to see them go, they weren’t taken before their pinnacle, because their pinnacles happened every day.
And we, as a community have learned from that. Banishing ourselves to the tame spaces of mediocrity would be against what each of the departed’s lives and deaths represented. We’ve learned that death is not the antipode to life; not living is, or as Kip would’ve put it, “Getting fired up!”
So as a community, yes, we’ve been hit hard. It feels lonely and sad. But we also realize how much worse off we would have been without Shane, Randy, CR, Arne, Andrew, Kip, and Allison. Our world was made better by their presence and because of that, we will not abandon our tenets.
But we do hope that the chain of misfortune ends soon. In 1960, that hexed Porsche Spyder mysteriously vanished off the back of a trailer truck. So here’s hoping that whatever is going on here in Squaw vanishes as quickly as the Spyder did.