Remembering three fallen friends, a year after the tragedy at Stevens Pass
A year ago today, February 19, 2012, three ski industry veterans and loved ones were killed in an avalanche near Stevens Pass, Washington. Today, we remember them with these three tributes, originally published in our special Backcountry Edition.
Remembering Chris Rudolph
Words: Mike Berard
Photo: Ian Coble
Chris Rudolph owned the mountains. With an omnipresent, mischievous smile, he found joy in the smallest of pursuits. He kept those around him fueled with his endless reservoir of stoke. The last time we met, we stayed up late into the night drinking cheap beer and talking about his ongoing role as the Ambassador of All Things Rad. Chris was the director of marketing at Stevens Pass and the resort’s biggest cheerleader, but not only because he worked there. He truly loved the life he’d carved out for himself in the mountains. He was heavily involved in the Leavenworth outdoor scene and was pushing to introduce elementary-school students to skiing through the Outdoors for All Foundation. He raised funds for the High Fives Foundation. He was learning to speed fly. He was planning an Alaskan heliski trip. At 31, he was re-learning backflips on his skis. The man never stopped. Until this winter.
When he passed away skiing Stevens’ slackcountry in February, it hit the community hard, not only because we lost a friend, but because Chris lived his life the way we’d like to. We looked up to him. He knew it was never about where you were. It was how well you did while you were there.
This winter, I’m going to make deliberate attempts to live like Chris. To enjoy every day on the mountain, even in the rain. I’ll struggle up steep bootpacks and sweat my way up skintrails with joy and continue to scare myself just a little bit on each descent, all in pursuit of that same infectious energy he showed me. I’ll remember that it’s the turns and the people you make them with that matter, not where they are or what you wear when you do them. And at the end of each impossibly adventurous day, I’ll toast Chris with reverence. You did it right, my friend.
Remembering Jim Jack
Words: Jessica Baker
Photo: Keith Carlsen_MSI
Jim Jack, the man with two first names, stepped in to my life at my very first big-mountain freeskiing competition in Kirkwood, California at the turn of the millennium. I met him at the event registration as a fellow competitor, and he was undoubtedly the most outgoing individual in the room. Instantly warm, caring and invested in his fellow freeskiers, Jim Jack became an instant friend.
We spent the rest of the weekend with a posse of ripping skiers, shredding the best lines at Kirkwood and partying at night. I remember a friend saying, “They don’t call him the mayor of Alta for nothing!” He kept the atmosphere lighthearted and enjoyable even in the most pressing and nerve-racking moments. I ended up winning that competition, and I can honestly say Jim Jack was a big influence in my success from that point forward.
As Jim Jack became one of my best friends, we traveled the globe for freeskiing competitions, from Alta to Les Arcs to Whistler and every mountainous region in between. He was always positive, always ready for a fun time and always there for you when you needed him. When Jim Jack made the transition to judge, he never lost his cool. Still the most fun guy to be around, with a smile at every turn.
Last February, when I heard the news that Jim Jack was one of the three people who died in the Stevens Pass avalanche, I broke down. How could we lose someone so precious to our ski community—and so suddenly? All the memories of Jim Jack flooded through me: his smile, his smooth skiing style, his laugh, his fervor for life, the community that he had formed around him, and so much more.
We have lost yet another amazing member of our community, but we cannot deny the legacy he has left behind for us. All of us were enriched by Jim Jack’s unyielding positive influence and commitment to the very core of our sport. His spirit lives on in all of us. May we continue to spread his cheer.
Remembering Johnny Brenan
Words: Joel Martinez, Brett Johnson and Scott F. Wicklund
Johnny Brenan didn’t die last winter skiing in Washington. Dying is what happens to your batteries.
Johnny was the guy everyone wanted to be around. Anytime he called or showed up, you knew good times were right around the corner. As a local contractor, he literally left his mark everywhere in Leavenworth. “Off the Couch Johnny” was up for anything. Whether skiing, skinning, mountain biking, building a deck, fixing a screen door—he was there and loving every minute of it. Johnny was the first to volunteer, the first to offer to watch the kids, the first to commit to a plan and the first to bid high. Johnny was all in.
Johnny was a friend. He would give anyone the shirt off his back, a hand with a project or his truck for the day. From his first-chair pals to every child in his family’s big circle of friends, Johnny was friends with everyone and watched out for all. Whether it was heavy machinery, special fixtures in Seattle or new ski gear, Johnny always knew where to get it. He was Leavenworth mafia—in a good way. He always knew what time the poker game was, who was going for the freshies and where to meet for coffee. Johnny was game for anything and didn’t want to miss out.
After meeting his future wife in Breckenridge, Colorado, he brought her home to Washington so he could patrol at Stevens Pass, build a business and start a family. Johnny became a busy man building homes and businesses, but he never stopped skiing. His happy grin would shine through his snow-caked beard no matter if he’d just ripped the perfect line or eggbeatered down some Cascade crud. When Johnny picked up telemarking, his skills really started to show. It even earned him 15 minutes of fame on a Rossignal poster. He hardly cared; Johnny B. just loved to ski. Many days you’d find Johnny and his whole family skiing and sleeping out of his RV at Stevens.
Johnny figured out early in his young life what was important to him and did an incredible job at “living the dream.” Above all, Johnny was a devoted father and husband. He loved his girls. He passed his passion for skiing on to his daughters—when he watched them ski, his face would light up with love and pride.
Johnny didn’t die in the mountains. He lived his life. We’ll miss him in ours.