The mountains give; the mountains take. There are no words that can adequately express the deep sense of loss the global ski community feels when one of their sisters or brothers is taken doing what they love. Last week we lost another great one in Chamonix/Lake Tahoe based ski mountaineer, Dave Rosenbarger.
True to its spirit, this State of the Backcountry report will continue to celebrate what it means to be a backcountry skier. In that light, the reality of accidents in the mountains continues in a manner many have noted has accelerated in recent years. That said, in the pursuit of this sport sometimes tragedy is a result. But if we can learn anything in the now from someone as special as Dave, it’s to live your dreams and live life to its fullest.
The photos that accompany this State of the Backcountry edition were taken over the past several days while skiing in Chamonix, France and Courmayeur, Italy. After a separate professional engagement in Copenhagen, Denmark, the plan was to head to Chamonix, ski with Dave, and make the most of what has been a very thin start to winter in this world class global ski center.
Having traveled the world as a skier for years I can attest to the need for detailed planning. On the flip side, part of what makes ski traveling so attractive to some is the fact that no matter how well one plans, the ability to adapt is essential. I arrived in Chamonix late in the evening to the news of Dave’s accident. In times like these, at least for myself, I recognize the trivial nature of ski mountaineering and backcountry ski aspirations. To be with family and friends, to mourn, search and ultimately celebrate life is what matters most. But in stark paradoxical fashion, isn’t it the unknown that’s part of why we ski in the first place?
From a macro perspective it has been a tough start to the season in Western Europe. As of the end of January, there have been 49 recorded deaths from avalanches. In the days leading up to this trip to Chamonix, Dave had warned me about the thin snowpack, gaping crevasses and ferocious winds that had identified much of their season thus far. With some new snow last week things were looking better, but touchy.
Upon my arrival to Chamonix I took note the bright blue hues of the nearby glaciers, the lack of snow on lower elevation terrain, and the tone many seasoned regulars shared that much of the valley’s desirable terrain was far from ready. With thoughts of loss on the mind, it was somewhat comforting to be able to spend some time with friends competing on the Freeride World Tour. Their first stop was in Chamonix and provided a few days worth of distraction thanks to their incredible riding off the flanks of Brevent.
In the past several days Chamonix has seen multiple feet of snow fall. While overall conditions are still relatively thin, stability will remain questionable for anyone currently skiing in the area or planning to visit in the near future. This new snow sits atop a diversity of weak layers including wind slabs and facets. I hope people take caution, as always, as they venture out in Chamonix and the adjacent areas in the coming weeks/months. It’s no secret that the area is one of the most prominent in the world to skiers and riders, but as is the case with any complex ski terrain, there’s a time to drop in, and there’s a time to stick to meadow skipping.
Upon returning home to Tahoe it’s been nice to hear of people making the most of the continued high pressure rather than dwell in the negativity of a fourth straight slow start to the winter season. Some outdoor adventurers have taken out their bikes, some have been SUP’ing the lake, and others have been seeking out reportedly great corn skiing in the California Cascades (speaking of the Lassen/Shasta area, if you’re into weather check out this link-they’re talking 20+inches of liquid heading to NorCal in the coming week!). Life is too short and too exciting to not make the most of everyday, especially when you’re in a place as beautiful and rad as Tahoe. I hope people can keep making the most of it until it snows. I know I’m very much looking forward to breathing some crisp Sierra Nevada air this week and searching out some winter corn in the high country.
On a final note, one of Dave’s Chamonix buddies passed me this article while we spent time together last week. If you’ve made it this far in the text I trust you’ll appreciate spending a few moments reading the piece. As easy as it is for some to look at instances like avalanche tragedies retrospectively with contempt, it’s those who view the issues from a more loving perspective who I believe locate a much stronger truth. My deepest condolences continue to be shared with all family, friends, and people who were touched by Dave. As we mourn, let us not forget how important it is to honor and respect those who have lived in such a way as to inspire others to find the best of themselves. Dave was that man, that adventurer, that skier. He will never be forgotten and I hope that as we continue forward together in the mountains, morning and celebrating, that these words will stick with us all indefinitely (borrowed from the memorial card passed out at the Eglise Reformee where Dave’s celebration of life was held on Thursday, January 29, 2015):
“Those who live passionately teach us how to love,
Those who love passionately teach us how to live.”
“State of the Backcountry” is sponsored by Alpenglow Sports. Established in 1979, Alpenglow Sports is Tahoe City’s original mountain shop. Specializing in Backcountry and Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, trail running, backpacking, hiking, camping, and the mountain lifestyle apparel, Alpenglow is always psyched to offer premier user-based customer service.