50 Degrees North, One Degree of Separation…Life and Death in a Ski Town

January 1st, 2011 New Year’s Day

The phone rang and I didn’t want to answer.  I had already heard the news, read the e-mail, heard the voices in the snow.  I didn’t want to answer and hear another, ‘Did you hear…?’  Not today.  50 Degrees North and one degree of separation.  This is life, and sometimes death, in a ski town. 

As the news trickles closer to reality, the detached vagueness and tragic anonymity fades.  First an e-mail with a link to the RCMP account and the obligatory, ‘play safe out there’, tag, followed closely by the more local press release with a vaguely local rendition of the original with Highway names and a short quote, ‘we are deeply saddened’.  What else can you say?

Names of lodges and familiar runs and nearby towns, even names of bridges and cross roads, are followed by names of officers and hospitals and the inescapable pronouncement, “a 32-year-old woman was pronounced dead at hospital”.  Names…names and pictures of guides and friends and the regular New Year’s crew stream out on Twitter and then stop.  And then, “we lost a friend today…”, and I pray selfishly, forgive me…instinctively, to a selfish god, like so many others in ski towns everywhere, that the name is not one I know.

Andy Irons (AI – RIP) was 32…I sit with my pencil and this book and search for random meaning in coincidence and find myself tucking my son in under his new Christmas Star Wars  covers from Uncle Rich and Bumby and the boys and I am enveloped in the pure love and naivety of being a six-year-old growing up in a mountain town like there is no other place or experience anywhere else on earth. 

Earlier in the day…I unpacked the backorder box of ski and surf DVD’s at the shop and popped a copy of “The Edge of Never”, into my pack (…more coincidence?)  My beautiful wife sat on the other end of the couch like she does and we watched neighbors and names and faces of ghosts appear that say, “I skied with your dad…” How many times has Kye Petersen heard that?  Like grown men telling Johnny Cash, “My father was in prison with you.”  How many times will my son look up and smile never really knowing the faces and names and voices that have drifted beneath the snow?  My winter friends that magically appear when the other seasons fade into the white of another 20 to 25cm…?  I wonder if Kye heard about the time Scott and Steve and the boys drove the cat over to the ski hill in the rain from Island Lake and the RAP films crew hung out in the old bar upstairs in the day lodge drinking Mogul Smokers?  Heroes, legends and ghosts…and voices in the snow.  Trevor and Eric, Steve and  Peter, Doug and Jim, my friend Nick and that Norwegian ski bum who showed me the picture of a mountain bike wheel he created by drawing all of the spaces between the spokes, the empty spaces between the moments, forgotten (?), random, perfectly inconsequential, that all add up to a lifetime in ski towns, to right here, right now.

The New Year’s decorations my wife and son made are still on the table…tinfoil covered party hats, shiny Mexican charger plates, the “2011 Wishes” poster taped inside the frame of the moody Thom Thompson tree print, the ribbons from the track lights dangle silver and blue above the table…and I don’t need to look outside the blinds, I know exactly how it looks…and I think to myself I am blessed. 

Prayers and condolences to the young woman who lost her life to the snow, to the friends and faces who shared in the tragic experience of her loss and to her family and loved ones everywhere moved to silence and tears, like so many of us, so many times.  Godspeed, peace and wings.


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