Remembering Jim Jack and Ryan Hawks

Comments by Leah Fielding/

It's been just a few weeks since the final stop of the 2012 Freeskiing World Tour. It was a special event, as athletes, spectators and event organizers celebrated two inspirational men.

For the North American big-mountain competition circuit, this has been a trying year to say the least. Not only were there numerous event postponements and the first cancellation in the Crested Butte stop’s 20-year history—due to the poor snow conditions—but we’ve also endured the loss of two key members of the tight-knit community. It seems strange that Kirkwood hosted the final 2012 Freeskiing World Tour stop, because that’s where this difficult year began.

Just about one year ago, “Flyin’ Ryan” Hawks, one of the Freeskiing World Tour’s most beloved and talented competitors, as well as Junior FWT judge, sustained fatal injuries at the 2010-11 FWT Kirkwood stop. Everyone on the Tour knew Ryan, he was everyone’s friend, and today his presence is deeply missed.

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On February 19, 2012, just as many were beginning to pick up the pieces, more bad news hit the FWT family. The godfather of big-mountain competition as we know it today—and Head International Freeskiing Association Judge, since 2005—Jim Norman Jack died in an avalanche on Stevens Pass along with two other local friends.

Left: Hawks in Portillo. Photo: MSI.

“We lost a wealth of passion and knowledge,” said athlete Angel Collinson of Snowbird, Utah. In Jim Jack’s passing, “We lost a big catalyst for progressing the sport, and just one of those amazing spirits.”

You’d think that’d be enough to make even the most devoted of skiers throw in the towel. But, no. Just like they must accept the improbability of Mother Nature and the snow she bestows, they accept the realities of extreme skiing.

This common understanding has been the glue that’s held the battered community together: friends, family, fellow competitors, Junior competitors, Mountain Sports International, FWT event organizers. The team soldiers on, respecting Ryan’s inspirational moral and Jim Jack’s passionate legacy by continuing to compete and “live in the moment,” says Collinson.

“We’ve all been high fiving a lot more than usual and telling each other, it’s good to see you,” said Bryan Barlow, event director for Mountain Sports International (MSI).

Collinson, who took 2nd place overall on the 2012 FWT, and who was dating Ryan at the time of his passing, said that although it was difficult to go back to Kirkwood since it was where she had the last memory she had of him, that she was able “channel all that energy into a positive direction instead of sadness.”

“He’s taught me how to champion feeling sorry for yourself, or letting yourself think it’s a bad day because of what happened in the past,” said Angel, “He was always really great about saying, ‘It’s about now, it’s about today, it doesn’t really matter what happened yesterday.’”

As Ryan’s father, Peter Hawks says, “We’re not grieving about what we don’t have, but appreciating and honoring what we did have and continue to have." He added, "[Ryan] would be the very first person to say, ‘Hey Dad, I knew the risks, it is what it is,’ and he wouldn’t say ‘gee, I was really unlucky because that one little rock was positioned just right and all the forces went up and raised hell under the snow where it couldn’t be seen.”

Peter also points out that in the case of Jim Jack’s accident, “We never have all the answers on avalanches either. Both these guys [Ryan and Jim Jack] were put together in a way that they could accept the risks. It’s a little harder for those left behind.”

Sharing good memories has been particularly helpful for those left behind. One competitor, Rob Gosiewski of Vail, CO, remembers the first time he met Jim Jack.

“It was always Jim Jack's ambassador spirit inspiring everyone to spread the stoke,” said Rob, “He was just as approachable when he was in the thick of a competition as he was while sharing a chairlift.”

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Jim Jack. Photo: Eben Wight.

Jim Jack was the kind of guy who had time for everyone. He’d stay way after the pre-comp meetings talking to whoever needed his ear. It was because he truly cared about the progression and safety of the athletes.

In fact, during my own bout competing in the 2010/11 season, I too was comforted by Jim Jack’s advice. He had seen me inspecting a small chute at Jackson’s Casper Bowl. I was being goaded to “go for it” by some friends, since it would earn me a good line score. He could sense that I was unsure and that I was too much of a noob to confidentially ski it and he told me to, “Just have fun, ski something you know you can nail.”

“I think he made everyone feel appreciated for their efforts, and I think this is the spirit that we will all have to maintain between us as we carry on without him,” said Gosiewski, “I hope his inspiration will never be forgotten.”

Jim Jack had a strong impact on Ryan, too. Ryan competed on the Junior FWT circuit and as Peter says, “He was very cognizant of his roots as a Junior [FWT competitor]… He liked teaching and coaching, and Jim Jack recognized a potential judge in Ryan, so he took him under his wing.”

I have no doubt that student and teacher are together somewhere, slaying puffy pillows.

Ryan Hawks’ family established the Flyin’ Ryan Foundation to further a set of 13 principles that they found typed out on his computer: Live every day, all day / Never stop exploring life / Never lose my adventuresome attitude / Be the best brother, son, uncle I can / Look out for others / Look out for myself / Look out for our surroundings / Be self-sufficient / Don’t be afraid to ask for help / Work hard / Live easy / Live simply.

For more information visit: www.flyinryanhawks.org