Is It Okay to Die Doing What You Love?

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In the ski world, like any number of high-risk sports, tragic accidents sometimes happen. When Shane McConkey died nearly two years ago, like a mantra worn thin by repeated mumblings, the refrain echoed through the ski industry, “Well, at least he died doing what he loved.”

Two days before his disappearance, I talked to Paul Melby about his job as a diving instructor. He liked it, but it was cutting into his ski time. As both a former ski patroller and snowcat driver at Crystal, Melby was accustomed to skiing every day. And now, his four day-a-week schedule just wasn’t enough. So, while probing around a tree well yesterday, my heart in my throat, I remembered the refrain. “At least he died doing what he loved.”

But I don’t buy it. I can’t. Death is death. And even if someone dies with a heart full of joy, their blood pumping with a nirvana-esque sparkle, they are still gone.

“At least he died doing what he loved.” Tell that to his mother, to his family, to the hundreds of volunteers that have searched for him.

A few years I ago, I spoke to J.T. Holmes about base jumping. J.T. jumps off cliffs in a squirrel suit and flies. He says he’s like a bird, and that the feeling is unparalleled anywhere else. You can’t get this feeling skiing. When I asked him if it was dangerous, he just smiled.

He explained it to me like this: when you start out base jumping “you have a bucket of skill and a bucket of luck. At first, the bucket of skill is empty, and the bucket of luck is full. You pour from the bucket of luck into the bucket of skill. And someday the bucket of luck will run out.”

I wonder how different that is from drug addicts–engaging in risky behavior one knows will kill you. If J.T. was speaking of using heroin–how the high was worth the risk, how one day it would most likely be his demise–I would have been alarmed. I might have told him to get some help. I may have even taken him to a drug rehab center.

But when we talk about high-risk sports, everyone seems okay with it. Like it’s okay to die doing it, as long as you were happy right up until the end. But aren’t drug addicts enjoying themselves too? Don’t they, too, love the high and want to prolong it, want to get back to that first ideal rush, when they didn’t know if they would ever land, if they would ever have to follow the laws of gravity and physical limitations again?

As a ski patroller, charged with saving lives, I just don’t buy it.

I want to believe that I can save lives, that I can find a missing skier, bring him home–alive and well–to his waiting family. I want to believe that no one will ever die on my watch.

And yet I know, from my own experiences, that isn’t always possible. I know, too, that the rush of adrenaline, the pure joy of cold snow, the deep promise of the untracked line, the expectation of winter storms marching relentlessly towards us makes it all worth the risk.

We tell ourselves, “I could die today and be happy.” And perhaps that’s true. But I would like to posit this view: it’s better to live and ski, or jump, or fly another day. Living is always better. It is only here that we can enjoy the breathtaking splendor of mountains and cold air and crisp joy. It is only here that we can return.

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37 responses »

  1. This post really has me thinking Kim, especially with my own brush with death being so close. I like to think that my life has been so full of joy and beauty and fun etc. that I could die a completely happy person at this moment. However, the truth of the matter is that I am not ready to die yet, and I don’t feel that it is my time. I think for me the part that disturbs me the most about dying is how horrible and distraught my family and my boyfriend would be. I can’t stand the thought of being their sorrow. And as far as doing what I love, I suppose that when I die (someday far, far away from today) I might want to go out doing what I love, but I think mostly I would want to be around those people I love more than doing what I love. Perhaps that is selfish of me, wanting those I love to watch me die, it certainly sounds horrible. I think that personally, I would not want to die alone even if it was doing something that I loved (although this would spare my family and friends from having to be there) but like the Death Cab for Cutie song “What Sarah Said” says, “Love is watching someone die”. I hope someone will be there with me when my day comes many many years from now.
    Kim, you always give me great things to think about. Love you lady!
    Laura

    • Laura,
      Your words are so true. Thanks for putting that perspective on it. Perhaps my husband’s own close brush with death paints my viewpoint. When you have sidled right up to death and looked into it’s steel gray eyes, you never want to get close again. No matter where you are or what you are doing.

  2. Kim,

    As a mountain girl, I struggle with this multiple times a year when friends of friends (and less frequently, when my own) lose their lives in the mountains. I’ve been at it long enough to read accident reports with the detached quest for knowledge and learning. And still, these losses sometimes seem too much.

    Thank you for another thoughtful post.

    -Sara.

    • Sara,
      Why do our friends have to die doing our favorite sports? I’m all for safety. Better equipment, safer gear, and a load of personal responsibility. Granted we also LOVE the risk inherent in our sports. We love to come up close to that inner fear and push against it–sometimes gently and other times will a load of force. But most of all I love raising a pint at the end of the day and toasting my turns with good friends. I love skiing, I just don’t want to die doing it. Or anything else for that matter (not yet anyways). Thanks for your thoughtful comment.
      Best,
      Kim

  3. Kim,
    once again a very thoughtful, yet thought provoking post. I was bothered by all that ‘at least he died doing what he loved’ when Shane died. I wonder how his daughter will feel about that when she grows up. I bet she’ll feel cheated, as I did when my dad died and I was still so young.
    A couple of years ago a good family friend in the Alps died in an avalanche. His wife and 4 others watched him being swept away. There were helicopters on the scene within minutes and he was dug out from under 9 feet of snow. Long story short, he was taken off life support several days later due to lack of brain activity. He left two children behind, his daughter skis on the German ski team. His mother lost both her sons (her only children) in accidents. I don’t think she should have outlived her sons. His family will now lose the family business and everyone who knew him is heartbroken. I’ve only met him a couple of times and introduced Rory to him, because Rory was fascinated by his high tech cabinetry shop.
    My cousin used to ski with him all the time and he was angry that by skiing all that powder in an avalanche prone area so many people had to get hurt.
    So, I think, taking chances like that are selfish.
    Thanks for listening,
    Liz

    • Thanks Liz. I always love your thoughtful comments. I can’t imagine being the wife of your friend–watching my husband get swept away by an avalanche. And then to have to make the call to pull the plug. That would be too much to bear.

  4. Thanks for your thoughtful post, Kim. I completely agree. I was riding up the Forest Queen chair the other day, and as we passed the spot where there had apparently been a fatal accident earlier this season, one of the guys on the chair brought out that line, “At least he died doing what he loved,” and everyone nodded. Bullshit, I thought. He had been a recreational skier, like me; he had not consciously taken on a high level of risk, like the base jumper you mention; he died on a groomed run. It could have been me, and I know how I would feel: no sport is worth dying for. When something like this happens, it’s awful, and there is nothing good about it, no compensation. Clichés like “At least he died doing something he loved” make us feel better, they make it seem like a death is at least in some way appropriate, and they insulate from having to feel the full force of a loss. That’s understandable, but the truth is that life can be random and cruel sometimes. I hate that he died, and I don’t want to die skiing or doing anything else that I love.

    • Well said Alex. It’s not that I don’t want to die skiing, it’s that I don’t want to die. Not yet. Death waits for all of us, I know this. None of us are getting out of this thing alive. But I just want to stave it off as long as I possibly can.

  5. Hey Kim – I’m glad I was referred to your blog today. I have always hated that phrase, but I realize (or at least hope) that the things that people say after a loved one, friend, friend of a friend, etc. passes is really said in an attempt to help those left behind cope with the death. With the idea of mortality. With the finality of it all.

    I am pretty sure that when I go, if it happens when I’m doing something that I love (keeping my fingers crossed), I’m going to be thinking to myself “not now, not yet.”

    Thanks for the great post!

    • Liz,
      Thanks for stopping by, and thank you for your thoughtful comment. I agree that the refrain “at least he died doing what he loved” is often said for the comfort of the living. Perhaps it makes it easier knowing a loved one passed while having fun. Also perhaps it is my perspective as an EMT and rescuer that makes this refrain so hard to believe.
      Best,
      Kim

  6. I too was blessed with the opportunity to be on the Crystal Mountain Ski Patrol with both Paul, and you Kim. Pual did have a passion (possibly addiction) to skiing. If I remember correctly he left the patrol to drive snow cats so he could have more free time on the mountain. There’s one thing I’m sure of in all this, Melby would rather be skiing today. I have not seen him in at least 4 seasons but I rember he had a passion for life, for doing crazy things but mostly for living.
    I left the ski patrol in 2003 to become a Presbyterian Pastor. In that time I think I have learned a thing or two about death. As somebody who now struggles to get in 25-30 days a year I miss skiing every time a big dump comes and I have to work. I also know how much satisfaction I get when the planets align and my ski days coincide with a big dump! I feel more alive than ever! But even as somebody with a passion for life and a familiarity with death, there is little reassurance that I can give to a family who looses someone they love. I have been at the bed side of many people as the fight for every last breath. They want to hold onto life! We are human beings we have a fight for life nearly unmatched in all the animal kingdom. Simply put people prefer life!
    I think back to last year when I found out about Arne Backstrom dieing. Arne was another incredible skier I got to watch grow up at Crystal. He had achieved a level few in the world do (except the Backstrom family!) All I could think of was Steve & Betsy how no parent should have to bury their child. How they would never say well at least he died doing what he liked. They I’m sure wanted to watch him continue to succeed & maybe even start a family to pass on his passion for life to another generation. I venture Paul’s parents feel the same.
    When we loose a loved one we are left with a void we must try and figure out. We must make sense of it in our own lives. We must find our own way to keep this person’s memory alive in our own lives. We must never pass on any life with a cheap “Oh well…”
    Live life to the fullest. Take every opportunity that comes your way. But always do it in such a way as to be back for the next day. (sorry for ranting Kim)

    • Chris,
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. Your perspective is especially poignant knowing that you have experienced both life as a patroller as well as the task of soothing families during tragedy. I agree that we can’t diminish death by saying “Oh well..” and I appreciate your wisdom and your words. Next time you make it up to Crystal, I hope you stop in and say hi.
      Best,
      Kim

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  8. Living life is taking a risk every day. You take your chances getting in a car, running around the neighborhood, bike riding to the store, & simply walking to the bus stop. Every day you risk injury or death. There are so many things in life that you do every single day that put you are at risk, but we keep doing it. Just like skiing, bike riding, hiking, running around the neighborhood & getting in your car. Take precautions & be responsible & have fun…… live! We are out here because we love it. Something about it draws us here ~ it makes us feel alive. I think I am lucky to be here every single day & if I were to die doing something that I loved, then I was a lucky to have enjoyed it while I could. Not everyone makes it to adulthood, we are blessed to be here doing what we love! Sounds like Paul made a huge impact on many. Makes me think of one of my favorite saying, “Don’t cry because it is over, smile because it happened”. I think many people were lucky to have known Paul. Enjoy, be safe & live!!

  9. Kim,
    I recently found your blog while looking for updates on (Paul Melby) the missing skier; I have no ties to his family, friends or the ski community yet couldn’t get him out of my mind. He was someone’s son, friend, partner . . . maybe a favorite uncle or nephew. I was sure he was loved and many were worried and now, feeling a huge loss. My heart goes out to Paul’s friends and family.

    What we know about brain chemistry so far is still evolving but our bodies respond to excess/lack of dopamine, serotonin and adrenalin similarily, regardless of source. A glass of wine with dinner is different than a bottle every night and not everyone is able to discern the difference; the same could be true with anything in excess, drugs, alcohol, gambling, work and even skiing. Your insight gave voice to important but overlooked subject matter; all of us need to heed the dangerous potential of any high-risk behaviors.

  10. I think you’re missing the point of the phrase. We’re all going to die. If you could choose, how would you like to go? Visit a nursing home or hospice center, or watch a friend suffering from terminal cancer going through heavy treatment solely for the miniscule chance that their life in the hospital can be extended for a short period of time (my experience). It’s not pretty and it raises questions about quality of life vs just staying alive.

    The comparison to a drug addict is inapposite. My experience with drug addicts is they are trapped in a miserable life from which they can’t extract themselves. To compare a brief high and it’s resulting lows and, typically, destruction of livelihood and normal life to someone that takes advantage of good powder days, the excitement and anticipation driving to the mountain, the camaraderie with friends afterwards, and the great memories is, quite frankly, ignorant. Drug addiction is a prison, while the luck we have participating in great sports in great venues is a wonderful way to live.

    The phrase “he died doing what he loved” is usually prefaced by “at least.”. While no one is hoping to die, especially so early, there are plenty of alternatives that are worse. It’s a silver lining that people cling to in situations like last week, where, at first glance, there is none. Give them a break.

    • Dave,
      Your thoughts here are poignant and well-taken. I agree that we should all live fully, and that a life spent in the mountains is better than anywhere else. I, too, have spent more than my fair share at a hospital bedside. But what I walked away from was the vase preciousness of life. I, too, have had some recent experience with addiction, as someone very close to me has gone through quite a battle. It was with him that I watched a TV program on base jumpers that use squirrel suits. In the words of a recovering addict, he compared those flying–the ones that knew the risks and yet couldn’t stop–to drug addicts. It was a eye-opener for me, and one that I’d never thought of. In sharing that connection, I hope to expose others to that same realization. I agree that any addiction is a prison. But in our culture, we often forget that addiction lies in many forms.

      To compare skiing to drug addiction is not really fair. I wasn’t trying to say that dedicating one’s life to a healthy, fun sport as skiing was anything like being addicted to drugs. It was merely an interesting connection to bring to light, and one that has sparked quite a bit of healthy debate. This is a good thing. We should all keep talking about these issues. The more time we all spend in the mountains, the closer we will all come to death. It’s always there.

      As a ski patroller, I have seen some awful deaths. I have seen things I can never share here. In my experience a death in a tree well or under avalanche debris or from trauma on the mountain is just as ugly as any death. I want to honor life–the beauty and joy of it, the crisp reality of it shining through the fog at the top of a snowy peak. These are things I will never give up. My own life is risky–I start avalanches, I use explosives, I search for others in the mountains. I would never relinquish this part of my life. But I do take precautions. I know my limits.

      Kind Regards,

      Kim

  11. I couldn’t agree more. I’ve never bought into that old refrain. As a rockclimber since the seventies, I’ve heard that one a lot as friends die, or are maimed in the mountains.

    Our civilized lives leave us hungry for adventure. We were built to go out and chase the tiger, but with all the tigers dead, we seek out adventure. I’ve heard people say that back country skiing, and climbing are dangerous, but those same people get in their cars and drive like madmen. It seems everyone needs a little danger.

    The key is moderation. A little danger is good, but, especially if you have kids, use some common sense. Take it back a few notches. Keep the day job, have your fun on the weekends. There is a lot of good life ahead of you.

    Watching your kids grow up can be one of the most satisfying things you will ever do. They need you around.

  12. Such a hard topic to tackle. Thanks for writing about it. I think about death often, as I work in the hospital where I take care of patients who are dying and sometimes watch them die in front of me. It is always hard, always heartbreaking. It makes me realize my own mortality, and makes me think about what kind of life I want to be living.

    I think the hard thing about people who die doing risky activities, is trying to reconcile how much is too much risk. Should we never take risks? How much is too much? Of course we can’t stop taking risks. We have to keep skiing, if that’s what brings us joy. We all have to decide for ourselves how much risk we are comfortable taking. And, to know that each person is different.

    We also have to know and understand that accidents and tragedies still happen. And, they are so, so hard to swallow. It has been especially hard for me to reconcile the death of Arne Backstrom—I have skied many runs this year dedicating them to Arne, always wishing he was still in this world skiing somewhere. I am also heartbroken for Paul Melby’s family. It could have been me. It could have been so many of us. I am relieved and glad to have been able to witness such an incredible outpouring from the skiing community in the search efforts. If any good can come of these tragedies, they can help us realize how it is we want to live. How we can go about sharing our special talents and our unique gifts with this world.

    • Stacia,
      You said this so well. Thank you for your words and thoughtful comments. I agree that we all take risks, and for each of us that line exists–for some it is far out there and for others its closer to home. We all must decide where to draw that line for ourselves. If nothing else, I’m grateful that in the wake of Melby’s disappearance, this conversation has begun.
      All the best,
      Kim

  13. I have never considered the parallel of high risk sports to drug use. Very interesting perspective, Kim. At first I was almost offended by it; thinking “but physical activity is inherently healthy…certainly not like sticking a needle in your arm.” But as you implied, it is the same disregard for hazardous consequence that makes them similar. Your article was thought-provoking and well written. However, I would like to instill some value on the comfort of losing loved ones to tragedies on the hill, and other activities in the pursuit of passion, that are simply accidents.

    Five days before Christmas this year, I lost one of the dearest people in the world to me. His name was Josh Vigeant. He was a man of extreme life, but not an extremist. On our season opener to Whistler this past November he was the first person to leave the mountain because he “wanted to take it easy, and didn’t want to get hurt.” Not only was he an avid snowboarder for over 15 years, he enjoyed numerous activities: fishing, skateboarding, hiking, going to the gym… He could not keep still. Always on the go doing something. His self-proclaimed motto was “Give me something good to die for to make it beautiful to live.” But he was responsible with his actions. He was the type of person always looking out for the safety of himself and others. One of our last conversations was about how glad he was that I wore a helmet because you never know when a “freak accident” is going to happen.
    Josh died snowboarding with his friends, on a mountain he had been on hundreds of times. He instantly passed due to a likely combination of head, neck, and spine trauma. No one saw the fall but his friends were seconds behind him and even with advanced life support training, could do nothing to bring him back. The devastation of losing him continues to affect hundreds of people on a daily basis. And many of us have certainly acknowledged that he likely would have not wanted it any other way. He was only 31 years old and at the peak of his happiness. Without the comfort that “at least he died doing something he loved,” there is practically no solace in his death whatsoever. Rather than question God and the loss of a life so young, I have personally found it better to praise God for blessing Josh with the physical ability and adventurous spirit to live the life he wanted to; with happiness, passion, responsibility, and no regrets.

    I agree that a death is a death regardless of circumstance. However, embracing the existence and loss of an adventurous life is an integral part of the healing process for families and friends. People continue to drive to work every day despite the fact that automobile accidents and drunk drivers kill thousands of people every year. Mostly all activities are inherently dangerous. You said: “it’s better to live and ski, or jump, or fly another day. Living is always better…” I feel that this viewpoint is much more applicable to extremist athletes, who knowingly continue activities where the risk of death is much more tangible. Paul Melby did not seem to fall into this category. Neither did my friend Josh. Consuming aspirin “may also cause death.” And I truly don’t see anything inappropriate with people leaning on the knowledge that their loved one died living their dreams, and taking advantage of every moment to do what makes them happy.

    • Jessica,
      Thank you for sharing your story. I am so sorry about the loss of your friend. A tragic death, such as Josh’s, seems so random and unfair. Certainly, knowing that he was skiing–and that hopefully he did not suffer–offers solace to you and his family. I certainly do not want to take that solace away, for you and for anyone who has endured such a tragedy. If I had been working on the hill that day where your friend died, and tried to revive him, I, too would have felt the awful reality of death–that no matter how hard we try, all of us will go one day. It’s natural. But death at 31 or 40 is not natural or fair. It’s always tragic and always leaves me heartbroken.

    • Jessica,
      Your words are perfect. Thank you for sharing your story. I agree that it’s not inappropriate for loved ones to garner strength knowing that Melby–or your friend–died doing what they loved. I don’t want to take that away or in any way minimize it. I just hate it that people have to die skiing. My adult life has been dedicated to saving people at ski areas, and now, when a close friend of mine is still missing out there on the slopes, the words “at least he was doing what he loved” just don’t cut it for me.

  14. Kim,

    You have a very interesting point in here. You seem to talk a lot about the saying “at least he died doing what he loved,” which I agree is hard to justify sometimes and can be thrown around somewhat haphazardly. Death is death. Always. And it is an awful thing to see someone you love pass, as well as a scary thing to stare in the face. I recently had a close call skiing, where if it weren’t for the sheer luck that fell upon me I would either be dead or crippled for life. It was one of the most frightening things that has ever happened to me, and it definitely changed my view on skiing. Before this accident, I whole heartedly believed in a quote from another famous skier who recently passed, CR Johnson, where he said that “the joy I get from skiing, that’s worth dying for.” If you know his story, he made this quote after a near death experience, where he was expected to never walk again but in just a few years after the accident was back skiing on the professional circuit. I was willing to die for skiing, I knew I would never give it up because of the dangers. After my accident though I started to look at things differently. I realized all the people I would leave behind if I passed right here and now, and it told me not that I should quit pushing the limit skiing, but that I should always make the best decisions. Now, I still believe that skiing is worth dying for. Skiing is something that can completely engulf someone, just like drugs can, and I will admit that I am a skiing addict. But that is okay with me. The point of this though is instead of saying “at least he died doing what he loved,” maybe the more accurate way to see it is that he died doing something that was worth the ultimate price to him. I do not know him, so I cannot say whether or not this is true for him, but from what you said, my guess is that it would be true. I know that for me at least, if I do die skiing, or climbing, or pursuing any other dangerous passion like those that this is how I would want people around me to see it. That I risked my life for something that was worth it to me. I risked my life pursuing my greatest passions. And that I think makes it seem easier to bear.

    • Very well said Giles. You have a unique perspective on this discussion, and I appreciate you sharing it here. I like what another reader said about living the life you most want and being truly present and alive. When my husband was quite sick and in the hospital, we thought he was going to die. It was my memories of skiing, and my life in the ski industry that helped me get through the darkest moments. When John improved and finally got through the ordeal, he counted the days until he could ski again. It was like a beacon lighting his way.

    • Giles,
      I think that those who have been closest to death, and have felt it’s frightening permanence, are the ones most likely to reconsider the adage that it’s “worth the risk”. I agree that even now, I too take on huge risks, knowing that what I do could ultimately kill me. But as a rescuer and EMT, I just don’t ever want anyone to die skiing. The sad part, with Melby, is that he most likely wasn’t taking on huge risk. He was skiing in-area–what he did all the time, practically every day of his adult life. He probably wasn’t skiing out of bounds or hucking off big cliffs; he may have just zigged when he should have zagged and got caught in a tree well. That’s a fate that I just can’t reconcile.

  15. Hello Kim,
    Great insights on life….I agree that the most important part is to treasure every minute we have everyday! I believe that people that grasp this concept are at peace within them selves. Doing what we love is just one part of living life to the fullest. While driving over Hood today there was a fatality….made me grateful….to be Alive! Death is always knocking. Unfortunately it takes death or a fatality close to home for us to step back out of our busy lives to be grateful for what we have, and focus on what is important.
    Colin

  16. Kim, thanks for the thought provoking post, so eloquent. Paul is a friend of mine and I have been a part of the search. It is a surreal feeling (as you well know) to have so many people out enjoying what they love, mocking the fresh pow as you’re probing tree wells looking for what you don’t really want to find. My thoughts and prayers go out to anyone that knows Paul and the larger than life personality we have had the privilege of seeing, touching, feeling, sharing. Will post more later.

  17. Kim,

    Thank you for a beautiful and provocative post. And a huge thank you to all your commenters as well… such articulation and grace around such a sensitive and often painful subject.

    When I first read your comparison with drug addiction, it struck me that (in my experience and opinion), addictions are often escapes away from something undesirable or painful. I see adventure and doing things we love as moving toward something fuller. A fuller life, a more experiential way of being in the world around us.

    There is a fine line around taking risks, extreme sport, addiction and destruction and we all have to assess each of these boundaries for ourselves, as they’re unique to each of us.

    I, too, often cringe when I hear tired platitudes spoken in response to a death or tragedy, yet at the same time I choose to hear the gratitude expressed that a loved one died while living as opposed to simply allowing life to happen to them (as happens all too often).

    • Amy,

      I agree. The comments here have been eye-opening, and I’m so grateful for everyone who has put forth their thoughts on such a difficult topic. I also agree that drug addiction and loving the outdoors are two very disparate ideas. It was a recovering drug addict who also loves to ski that first put that thought in my head about the connection. In his opinion, addictive behavior–regardless of the drug–can be destructive. And when a person starts to cross a line beyond having fun and challenging themselves into a realm of seeking the risk, just for the sake of risk, then the it can tear down the personality rather than build it up. That’s an extreme example, and most people in the outdoors don’t fall anywhere close to that kind of risk taking. Usually, our experiences outdoor enhance us, bringing joy and freedom found nowhere else.

  18. Paul loved the adreneline and always had less fear than I did. I would cry and piss my pants on the ferris wheel and paul would push against the bar and hang over the edge. his skill underwater was something I could not understand, again I would dive down fifteen feet and be afraid of what was down there or the cold or pressure, but Paul would could dive down hundreds of feet with tools and go to work. He truly had no fear at times. Paul is in the ski area he did not break the written rules and because of that we know where he is, somewhere beetween the ropes. Paul had a huge heart for animals, children and his friends. He would be very proud of the people that looked for him and upset for them when the frustration set in not being able to find him. I pray for rain and warm weather and look at the telemetry everyday so that we can resume in earnest the recovery of my Brother. Matt Melby

    • Matt,
      I remember Paul well; he was always so nonchalant and confident. When he was on patrol, his locker was next to mine. He covered it with Brittney Spears stickers. He never flinched when we all razzed him about them. “Hey” he said. “Brittney’s cool.” In a world where physical prowess and strength are de riguer, Paul surprised us all with his ease and funny sense of himself. He will be missed–in the lift line, his off kilter smile, his appreciation for skiing. I’m so sorry for you and your family. I too look forward to snow melt so we can find him and bring him home to your family.

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  20. I feel very strongly that is time for the ski community to stop kidding ourselves about the justification for the risks we take. You often hear the justification that pushing your limits to the point where you come into contact with your mortality is spiritual. Yes, it is spiritual, but it is very low grade spirituality. It is a low grade form of personal development. True, you do grow as a person through skiing and mountaineering, but how about some discernment PLEASE! If you need to risk your life in order to grow, it is time for you to seek out some other alternatives that will make you a better person, ones that don’t risk you being killed. This doesn’t mean that we have to stop skiing avalanche terrain or climbing exposed peaks. I love doing this and hope to ski and climb until the end of my life (hopefully I have 70 or 80 more years ☺). I have surfed 16 foot wave faces, skied the best snow and terrain our wonderful planet has to offer and taken rides in avalanches. I used to think that skiing and climbing was a spiritual practice, and it is, but to a very limited extent. Putting yourself at the limits of your mortality by risking your life is like eating at mcdonalds because your hungry.

    If you are brave and desperate enough to risk your life to find God, then do something really radical like sit still and meditate.

    • Eric,
      Thanks for offering your voice to this discussion. I remember a time when adventurers justified taking risks “because it’s there”. Perhaps now we say it brings us closer to God or The Bigger Picture or whatever. What seems to be consistent is the need to justify it. Your comment about discernment is spot on. When someone dies skiing or surfing or climbing, they leave behind a tragic wake.

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