Remembering the fallen of Colorado’s Sheep Creek Avalanche

There’s nothing that drives home just how small the backcountry community is more than a tragedy. So when I heard the vague radio report on Sunday morning of Saturday’s catastrophic avalanche that claimed five young men near Loveland, Colo., there was little doubt a text or phone call was soon to follow. By noon, there it was, from our Rider in Chief Mike Horn of Crested Butte, Colo.: “Whomever posted the article on Backcountry FB this morning—I assume you know it wasn’t 5 snowboarders that died. 4 snowboarders, and 1 skier—Ian. Jerome from Venture (Snowboards) was the only survivor.”

ian-yurt

Ian is Ian Lamphere who grew up just down the road from me in Underhill, Vermont. I’d known him second hand for most of my youth through a common friend. We first met in earnest on a jobsite where he tended chimney blocks for me one day nearly a dozen years ago now. By about the third block he delivered it was pretty clear to me he was the brightest guy on the job. About the funniest too. And spirited. Far too smart to be humping blocks I remember thinking. But there he was. There we were.

He was just getting seriously into skiing then and peppered me with questions about the sport (I was a pro patroller at the time). Later that year, our paths would cross again. This time he was working for a businessman in Stowe on several deals at once, writing contracts and otherwise putting his ample intelligence to work: Much of it in the name of skiing. Soon, he was taking companies public, traveling the world and skiing a ton. Yes, there were bumps, but mostly, it was upward and onward for Ian. Two years ago, he began importing Gecko climbing skins and moved to Crested Butte where he and his fiancé had a baby. And now he’s gone, leaving behind Elizabeth Codevilla and their eight-month-old daughter Madelyn. (There’s a fund set up for them HERE ).

We’ve all wondered much about what went down at Sheep Creek on Saturday. Why these six experienced men were where they were. If you’re like me, you wonder if you might have chosen to join them on their selected route. The gut punch is, I probably would have. Who knows? We’ll leave that speculation to others, and the reporting to those on the ground. And, we’ll remember Ian here as our boyhood common friend did in an email to me last night. And we ask you to contribute your remembrances of Ian, Chris Peters, Joe Timlin, Ryan Novack and Rick Gaukel by emailing them to howie@backcountrymagazine.com. May they rest in peace.
—Adam Howard, Editor

Hi Howie

ian-skinningThanks for the call today. I hadn’t had a chance to really digest the impact of Ian’s death until just recently. He was good friend in high school and we spent many nights partying, fighting and crying trying to grow up and understand life. Ian was a very intelligent guy, good grades, honor level classes, easy going but was pretty lost at the core throughout those years and hardly skied. It was several years after graduation that I ran into him again and he had completely transformed into one of the most passionate skiers I have met. It was a new addiction for him that burned hot and he was obsessed. You and I had the benefit of growing up on skis from day one and it is ingrained in the deepest places of our soul whereas for him it was the turning point of something different. I think about him now trying to guess where he might have been emotionally: fiancé; new baby; business; all of the pressures that we now experience that are both wonderful but also oppressive and make those scarcer days in the backcountry that much more special. I went on a 12-hour backcountry ski yesterday with two good friends Dan and Mason (Dan is a Vermont boy that I grew up Nordic racing with since age five) and had one of the best days on skis in years. Life will constantly change but the passion for those days will never leave no matter how rare they become. It’s what keeps us coming back season after season, those precious moments that reaffirm the fact that we are skiers at our very core. I find comfort in thinking that this is where Ian was: Ecstatic to be out on a powder day, high in the mountains with a day of adventure ahead of him, giddy at the thought of those first turns and how they deep they might be.

The information I have read so far from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center and other news sources indicate that the avalanche was massive and stepped down to the ground under the recent loading. When tragedies like this in the backcountry occur people are always quick to assume that the group was inexperienced, made a poor decision or just shouldn’t have been out there in the first place. Possible, but this could also have been any of us on multiple occasions throughout our skiing years. The bottom line is that Ian and the group he was with were out there for the right reasons and it went wrong. We can all learn from this, and should, instead of shrugging it off as yet another “backcountry fatality.”

Sorry for the long-winded email. My wife and kids are 3,000 miles away on a beach in Florida where I will be joining them shortly. I am home alone by the fire looking out the window as a late spring storm blankets Big Sky and turns my brown lawn white again. I hadn’t thought about Ian or spoke with him in six or seven years but it’s amazing how the events and experiences that we shared together in our early years have poured back into my mind.

Best to you and the family,

Rob

Robert S. McRae
Big Sky, Montana

Hi Howie,

I am drowning in sorrow as I write this note after losing my son Ian in the Loveland Pass avalanche last week. He was as happy as I have ever known him to be, devoted to the loves of his life Elizabeth and Madelyn, and his life ended while he was doing something he truly cared about. My heart breaks for the families and friends of Chris, Joe, Ryan and Rick. And to wonderful Jerome, just know that it was not your time to go. Keep on living, aim high, and take the risks.

Georgiana Carr
Underhill, VT

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