It has been two years since my best friend and adventure buddy of 43 years died in a sky diving accident on Oahu, Hawaii. Not a week goes by that I don’t think of him.
Bob pointed his skis, a long skinny pair of Truckers with three pin bindings, downhill. He pushed off. As the slope rolled over to a steeper pitch, he made his first telemark turn. I watched him come up out of his turn just as the snow above him fractured. “Avalanche!” I screamed loudly. The snow broke into big blocks three feet deep around Bob. Gaining momentum as gravity pulled him downhill, I watched as his bamboo poles, caught in the pressure of the slide, first split, then exploded. Bob struggled to stay upright, but was caught and pulled down by the sliding snow. He was headed for a big rock standing directly in the path of the slide.
It was a morning in January, 1979 at the summit of Vail Pass, Colorado. From the pass we skied in silence on untracked snow towards the long north facing corniced ridge south of the pass. Bob was breaking trail, as we climbed up to the top of the ridge. I noted with concern the snow was collapsing and cracking underfoot, a sign of an unstable snowpack and dangerous avalanche conditions. We knew the conditions were suspect, but we decided to continue up a safe, low angle route to the top of the ridge.
It was near the top when I heard a loud noise behind me. I turned and watched the slope fracture three feet deep and fifty yards wide just beyond our ski track. The snow tumbled and slid all the way down to the bottom of the slope 500 feet below. We looked at each other. I remember saying in an understated way, “Bob, I don’t like this.” Bob replied, “Well, It’s already slid, we should be okay.” I shook my head and followed him to the summit where once again, in stronger terms, I expressed my reservations. But Bob had already made up his mind to ski a line where he thought the rocks would anchor the snow. I decided to spot him and then ski back down our uphill track. You could never tell Bob what to do, only make suggestions.
I watched Bob struggle to stay on the surface of the churning snow as he was carried by the avalanche toward the big rock. He hit the rock, the snow swept over and around him, pinning him to the uphill side. The mass of snow swept around the rock, eventually coming to rest in a deep cone at the bottom of the slope. Bob was partially buried, but could not move, the weight of the snow pressing him against the rock. I checked to make sure the slope was safe and carefully skied down the hard surface of the slide. I dug him out. He was okay and by some miracle we also found his skis. We skied the slide path down to the flats. Bob fashioned two dead trees into ski poles. I will never forget the grin he flashed me as we headed to the car. It said it all, “wasn’t that some kind of fun.”