Honor and respect; the 2015 Swatch Skiers Cup will be a contest to remember

Honor and respect; the 2015 Swatch Skiers Cup will be a contest to remember

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By Shannon Skouras

“Oh my, God… They are gone.” The words slowly crossed my lips while my mind reeled—not completely comprehending what I was reading on the screen in front of me.

Andy [Mahre] immediately stopped packing his bike bag and looked up at me; a look that many of us have had far too often in the past few years. One day, two avalanches, three friends… gone.

I will never forget what I was doing the moment that I found out that JP Auclair, Andreas Fransson and Liz Daley had all passed away after getting caught in two separate avalanches, on the same day (but miles apart) in South America. Andy and I were packing for a bike adventure in the Chilcotin Wilderness with fellow adventurer and photographer Scott Rinckenberger, a close friend of Liz. The next day we embarked on our trip with those three inspirations in our minds—every struggle, every drop of sweat, every laugh, every smile on that trip was for them.

February 21, 2015 marks the first day of the Swatch Skier’s Cup in Zermatt, Switzerland, and in the eyes of many of the competitors, this year’s event will be for JP. JP was once again slated to serve as captain for Team Americas, a position that he was given from a fellow teammate that considered him a friend, but also viewed him as a skiing legend.

“My fondest memory of JP was calling him at the end of the Skier’s Cup in 2013 and asking him if he’d take my reigns as the captain of Team Americas,” said Cody Townsend. “It was such a surreal moment for myself as JP was one of my ski idols growing up and as I sat and talked on the phone with him it dawned on me how special the moment was. Here was one of the most influential men in ski history, casually chatting with a kid that looked up to him for a decade and being genuinely honored that he was about to take the reigns as the captain of Team Americas. It felt so backwards to me, as JP sounded so excited to talk to me, when in reality, it was I who was nearly freaking out that I was on the phone with a ski icon.”

JP Auclair’s colossal double backflip at the 2014 Swatch Skiers Cup.

After JP’s tragic death, Seth Morrison stepped in to fill his late friend’s role as captain for Team Americas. “It has been difficult to take over his position. I wasn’t planning on doing this event [this year], but [his passing] has motivated me to work hard to prepare for the event out of respect for him,” Seth said.

A great captain needs to be strong, inspirational and a leader—Seth fits all of those characteristics and then some. Although his goal is to lead his team to victory, like any good captain’s aim, his real focus is on finishing what JP started. “Every one of his friends is doing what they can to give back to him,” said Seth. “I think everyone on the team feels the same way when it comes to being on the team—it’s not about us, it’s about doing it for [JP].”

For Seth to step up after JP’s passing shows a level of strength and gumption that is not found in many people these days—and it demands a level of respect that is given to even fewer. It is easy to live for ourselves: for the moments that make us happy, the moments that bring us joy. But to put our wants and needs aside at times to do things to make others happy, to make others proud, and to honor their memories—no matter if they are gone or still with us—well, that my friends is the leader that I would happily follow into battle.

[Editor’s Note: Shannon Skouras will be on-site at the 2015 Swatch Skier’s Cup, providing imagery and updates for freeskier.com. Stay tuned for coverage via the homepage, plus Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.]

Related: See Sam Smoothy’s herculean FWT run from his point of view

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