Recently I was on a flight from Denver to the Pacific Northwest and overheard a conversation involving a recently transplanted university student. When asked what he thought of moving from the Mile-High metropolis to the Emerald City, he replied “You guys don’t have any mountains.” When the response was “Well, there’s Baker and Alpental and Stevens Pass…,” the student drawled, “Not like our mountains in Colorado.”
Mr. Colorado was comparing his mountains to ours, and despite that his admittedly taller-than-our mountains have less oxygen, tiny trees, and are wildly more crowded, he still thought they were better. Two rows ahead and firmly biting my tongue, I silently disagreed. It raises the question, why dispute which mountains are best?
I like to think mountain culture means more than who boasts the highest elevation or glassiest swell. In my mind, it’s the quality of people that make the difference. I’d rather have one great friend on a molehill than a mountain of acquaintances. Friends make the mountains.
This past winter, the Pacific Northwest mountain community lost some great friends. Duncan MacKenzie, Sarah Burke, Jim Jack, Johnny Brenan and Chris Rudolph all capped off exhilarating, accomplished lives in the mountains and left a hole in the community as big as their hearts. While I’d met most of them through the intertwined web of the Pacific Northwest outdoor community, my relationship with one of them reminded me how the loss of friends affects our mountain tribe.
Chris Rudolph was a man who owned the mountains. With an omnipresent, mischievous smile, he found joy in the smallest of pursuits. He kept those around him fuelled with his endless reservoir of stoke. The last time we met, we stayed up late into the night drinking cheap beer and talking about new projects, like the launch of this very magazine where Chris—a stellar writer in his own right—was a contributor. We also talked about his ongoing role as the Ambassador of All Things Rad. Chris was the director of marketing at Stevens Pass and the biggest cheerleader for their new bike park. He was heavily involved in the Leavenworth outdoor scene and was pushing to introduce elementary-school students to skiing and snowboarding through the Outdoors for All Foundation. He raised funds for the High Fives Foundation. He was learning to speed fly. He was planning an Alaskan heliski trip. At 31, he was relearning backflips on his skis. The man never stopped. Until this winter.
When he passed away while backcountry skiing this past February it hit the community hard, not only because we lost a friend, but because Chris lived his life the way we’d like to. We looked up to him. He knew it was never about where you were. It was how well you did while you were there.
So I’m going to stop engaging in arguments about this singletrack versus that one, or 26” vs. 29ers, or longboards vs. fish, or who flashed a line the smoothest. There will be no arguments about which sport carries more credibility. I’ve got better things to do than debate.
Instead, I will make deliberate attempts to live like Chris. To enjoy every root, rock and son-of-a-bitch-of-a-climb on my bike ride. I’ll haplessly flounder in the whitewash and happily soak up every wave. I’ll get naked for wacky photos on mountain peaks. I’ll play campfire guitar and make up lyrics to songs I’ve forgotten. And at the end of each impossibly adventurous day, I’ll drink wine on my back porch as the sun goes down and I’ll toast Chris. You did it right, my friend.
And for the record, Chris would have told that dude on the plane that Colorado sucks. —Mike Berard
“The grey monochromatic light filters through the stacked thunderheads, peeling away mislaid priorities from lines left fresh in the soil, covering the chaff from which the wheat of my present has been extracted and future will be planted. No regrets- Who said that? Certainly a liar. We all cut, tear, and bury. Harvest only comes as the result of compound, timely destruction. When the season of reaping arrives, this harvest will be called to account–the yield determined through seasons of farmer’s choices. Will there be enough for the winter? I’m not certain. I know that I love this rain, this atmosphere, this moment. A derivative of life, fleetingly here, constantly passing.” —Chris Rudolph, 1981-2012