Not again. Please, not again. I don’t want to be writing this. I don’t want to be acknowledging another loss, mourning more bright and beautiful lights that went dark far too soon. Not again.
But of course it happened again. Because this is what we do, from the weekend warriors to the fearless mountain guides. We go out into a space that isn’t safe, that isn’t controlled or contained, where nothing is certain. Even for the very best among us – the most experienced, the most thoughtful, the bravest – there are no guarantees. It’s not a mystery why, as Steve Casimiro writes in his beautiful homage to the dead and the living left behind: “You play with fire, you might get burned. Some extreme skiers live to be old, some don’t.”
Goodbye, JP. Goodbye, Andreas. I didn’t know either of you, not really, although I met JP at a few movie premieres and have always been in awe of the contribution he made to Canadian freeskiing. I never spoke to Andreas Fransson, but I followed his blog and his documentaries and all of those insights about risk and reward, the price that might have to be paid one day for a life lived amid a stunning beauty beyond the reach of most of us.
And now, that debt is paid. They’re both gone in an incredible, sickening double whammy that punches a hole right through the heart of our community. When I saw the first news headline, it felt like a kick to the gut. Then it just felt impossible. Not Andreas, not JP. It can’t be true. Of course it’s not true. Not both of them. Not this.
Did they know? Right at that last, final moment, as the mountain fell apart around them and the white wave broke, did they know there was no walking away this time? So much experience, so much expertise; maybe they did. Or maybe they still hoped, even as they were swept away. It’s only human, to hope when all hope is gone.
And for the rest of us, as we wonder how the hell this happened to people so much more experienced and expert than we could ever dream of being, what do we take from this? If the very best among us could be snuffed out in an instant, just like that, what does that say about the calls we make? About what we do, where we go, why we choose to be in these places where the world is no longer safe or predictable?
This, I think. He said it so many times, in so many ways, Andreas.
“What I do know is that a life without seeing magic is not a life well lived. Mountains are just one tool in this quest, but it’s the one I know and the one I breathe. It’s not about going out into the mountains because they are worth dying for. I don’t think there are many things that are worth dying for, but I still need to go out in to the mountains because they give me something to live for. I want to live with excitement, love and joy…and then all those other questions just disappear.”
And be careful. Oh, be so careful. Ask the questions, and if you’re not happy with the answers then ask them again and again and again. Because there are people out there who love us, each and every one of us, and I don’t ever want the people who love me to be hurting the way that the people who loved JP and Andreas the most are hurting right now.