Lorraine Lock posted a blog this week about a new snow driven charity called I Ski For Tommy set up by ski racer Tom Lewis-Mathias’ mates to raise the awareness of melanoma in young people. Ok, Tommy didn’t die doing what he loved, skiing, but he did die and it got me thinking about mortality and the snow world and how the tight knit community of skiers around the globe hold together when one of their own departs this world for the powder stash on the other side.
As a ski and snow journalist I get to travel the world skiing the good stuff. I have learnt the bonding qualities of snow and how you can be sitting in a beachfront pub in the peak of summer when the topic of carving fresh comes up and the bonding begins over tales of snowtime revelry. With three degrees of separation in the snow world then second chances are you’ll know folks in common.
I know as a skier I can arrive in any ski town worldwide and hook into the snow web straight away thanks to this tight knit community. It means I never have to ski alone.
When someone high profile in this world of snow passes away the ripple effect in the ski community is huge from that person’s immediate family to their inner circle of friends to the people they have shared the chairlift with to those who took turns down the hill to anyone who has picked up a ski or snowboard magazine. Not just because a legend is no longer with us but because it could also have been us. If the world’s best skiers and boarders can be taken by the mountain then so can we.
I have been fortunate, very fortunate, to have spent time with Shane McConkey for ten days in Chile and with Arne Backstrom, if you can count 24 hours in Aspen as ‘time’ but I did get to watch him ski and that was priceless. I heard about Shane’s death after a late night out in London the night before returning to Verbier where I was spending most of the northern season.
At the Farinet the next night back in Switzerland I discovered a community in mourning. Well, actually they were a community in drinking, but each glass of beer was risen for Saucer Boy himself. Had everyone at the bar met him? No. Did everyone at the bar feel they knew him? Yes. Grief of legends touches everyone. How can it not when the legend inspires those who claimed him as such.
The Squaw community have copped it of late. First McConkey, then CR Johnson, and most recently Arne. You can read our Q&A with Arne at Chillfactor magazine, here. The mag had it scheduled to run shortly before his accident in Peru.
Facebook and Twitter has given people an outlet for their thoughts and grief and the opportunity to connect with others who are also impacted. What I love the most is the way the ski world tributes their own. Jeremy Jones tweeted a pick of Chute 75 this week from Squaw after Arne’s memorial. Why? Because himself, Arne’s brother Ralph Backstrom and friends were having a party run on Arne’s favourite chute.
That’s what I love about a grieving snow lover, when the going gets tough, the toughest going skiing. The fallen snow angels wouldn’t have it any other way.