Tuesday, September 30, 2014
I was having a great day.
Our staff was cranking on production of the annual Backcountry Issue, editing words, selecting photos… the standard fare. We were even treated to lunch by representatives of Tourism British Columbia, who rolled through Boulder, CO this week to catch up with the various media. I had a burger. We schemed about adventures on the famed Powder Highway. We smiled. We laughed.
Following the lunch outing, I returned to my desk, eager to be productive. I hadn’t been sitting for more than a minute before I saw the initial report. They’d been missing as of Monday. That’s what we saw first, as broadcast by the Chilean news agency BioBio. One tweet. Then another. Twitter exploded, as it so often does.
Another tragedy. This time, it wasn’t just another skiing pioneer, another hero, but two. Later, another Chilean news outlet confirmed the worst. JP Auclair and Andreas Fransson were gone.
Somewhere in between the onslaught of 140-character tributes came more depressing news. Liz Daley, a well-known splitboarder and climber, had been killed in a separate avalanche, also in Patagonia.
“What the hell is happening?”
For hours, I was glued to the computer screen, waiting for any morsel of information pertaining to these incidents. Gutted.
That evening, along with a handful of FREESKIER staffers, I attended the world premiere of the all-women ski film, Pretty Faces, in downtown Boulder, CO. The show was sold out; this was the first ski film premiere of the season to sell out Boulder Theater. Inside, the atmosphere could best be described as buzzing. Autographs were signed, photos were snapped. It was loud. The starring athletes took to the stage—so many amazing, talented women.
We observed a moment of silence for those who perished. The news was so fresh. For many, this was the first they’d heard of it. The positive bubble inside of that room didn’t burst, though. We marched on. We celebrated what was an incredible achievement for director Lynsey Dyer and her supporters.
At one point, two young girls were called on stage. If I had to guess, I’d say they were 10 and six. When asked if they had a goal for the upcoming season, the first responded, “I want to ski better in deep powder.” The second said, “I want to learn how to ski big mountains.” The crowd went berserk, of course.
Looking around the auditorium, females comprised the majority. Many of them were quite young. They came to be inspired.
It fuels us. It pushes us to do better. To be better. Or, at the very least, to want to be better.
As the film unfolded, I thought of the youngsters in the audience. How many of them would leave that theater with a new dream? A new idol? Maybe some acquired a new sense of self, or sense of direction.
The images flashed on screen and my mind wandered to the time in my life when freeskiing was something brand new. It was magazine pages and posters on the wall. It was Poor Boyz movie, after Level 1 movie, after Volume Video Magazine release. It was how I defined myself. It was everything.
Backflipping GT Racers. Brim beanies. Flair tails. The loop.
I don’t need to tell you. You already know. Because he inspired you the same way that he inspired me.
I thought of his family. His girlfriend. His child.
I thought of Fransson’s family.
I’d received an email from Sandra Fransson last week. I never had any correspondence with her prior. I opened it quickly, then marked it as unread. I’d revisit eventually. I didn’t have the time to respond, then.
“I was going to hear if you would be interested in publishing some info about me in your magazine?” she wrote. “I work as an artist and a lot of my inspiration comes from my interests, and from my brother and adventurer Andreas Fransson.”
My heart broke for her. For all of them. Family. Friends. Co-workers.
What a tremendous loss, this is.
JP Auclair has been an innovator of this sport for two decades. He’s an industry superpower.
I thought of the old video segments, sure. And the newer videos, too. But I also thought of the work that JP did away from the hill. He’s a visionary, collaborating with sponsors, co-founding and operating Alpine Initiatives… He was a doer. And long gone are the days of U.S. Open big air. He’d committed himself to the world of ski mountaineering, practicing virtues of patience, humility. Noble, indeed.
Fransson, I’d never met. But, man was I ever blown away by his thoughtful approach to the mountains, and to skiing. I’d read some of his blog posts over the past few years. The man wrestled with ideas of life and death. As I re-read his words today—as so many others are doing—they take on new meaning. I want to dig deeper. I want to get to the heart of what he’s saying. I didn’t do that originally. I left with an impression of what was on the surface.
It’s sad, but true—it takes something as grand as death for us to open our eyes, to pay some fucking attention. I speak for myself.
Forgive my French. I guess I’m upset. No, I am upset. These individuals were leaders. They inspired me. How many times have I told myself, ‘Man, what JP is doing is really amazing. How can I try to emulate that?’
I write these things in a journal I keep. Over, and over.
But what have I done? I’m stuck in a routine. I don’t take action.
I went through a similar motion after Sarah Burke passed away, as well. I failed to act on my desires then, too. She was so, so good. She was a giver. How could I try to give in a similar fashion?
Surely, we’ll all do much reflecting in the days and weeks ahead. Soon, we’ll tap those who were closest to Auclair and Fransson to share remembrances. We’ll continue to read. We’ll pay our respects.
For the moment, though, I’m hurting. So many are hurting.
I just want to say that this time, I’m not going to make the same mistake. I’m going to make a plan. I’m going to act.
How are you going to act?
Do something nice for someone else today. Go out of your way to make someone’s day brighter. Do it every damn day. It’s the least we can do to honor the lives of the wonderful, wonderful individuals who’ve departed.