The Loveland Five: Five Reasons To Live

Today marks the second anniversary of the Sheep Creek avalanche, a catastrophic accident that occurred near Loveland Pass, Colo. in 2013, claiming the lives of five young men. Five expert snowboarders, Jerome Boulay, Chris Peters, Rick Gaukel, Ryan Novak and Joe Timlin, and one expert skier, Ian Lamphere, were skinning near Scotty’s Corner, an oxbow near U.S. Highway 6, when the avalanche unleashed. The slide measured 800 feet wide, 600 vertical feet long and more than eight feet deep, ranking as a D3 on the damage scale. Boulay was the lone survivor. The five deceased men were beloved community members and from the accident grew the IAN Fund, named after Ian Lamphere, which first supported his fiancé and infant daughter and now aids families and loved ones facing similar tragedies.

In the following story pulled from the Winter 2014 issue of Kronicle, Backcountry’s sister snowboarding publication, editor in chief Mike Horn remembers the legacy of his friend, Ian, and the lives of those lost in the Sheep Creek avalanche. —LH

I’ve written this editorial in my head at least once a day for the last few months. But I have yet to type more than a sentence before shutting down. Because writing makes it real. But writing is also how I cope with shit that threatens to wither my soul. So, here goes.

I was sitting inside a banged-up Honda CRV, waiting out a rainstorm in the western Colorado desert when I got word of the avalanche in the Sheep Creek drainage at Loveland Pass. A text interrupted the live Phish concert playing through my phone on the dashboard: “Ian is dead. Avalanche.”

For several minutes it didn’t feel real. At first there were no tears, just disbelief as I stared through the cracked, rain- and bug-spattered windshield. My wife and I looked at each other every few moments with sad eyes, as the weight of the loss of Ian Lamphere slowly sunk in. Soon, word arrived that another close friend, Jerome Boulay, was also caught in the slide but somehow survived. Four other men in the group—Joe Timlin, Chris Peters, Rick Gaukel and Ryan Novak—did not.

I never met Joe, Chris or Rick. I know they were great people because of the crew they were rolling with that day, and the many stories I’ve heard celebrating them since. Similarly, even though Novak had lived on and off in my hometown, Crested Butte, we only met once while sharing a chairlift ride and a single run. It wasn’t until after his passing that I realized how deeply he touched so many here and elsewhere. Ian also lived in the Butte and was my partner in general hell raising, chasing singletrack and powder.

The days and weeks that followed the accident skidded into one long, manic episode. I could hardly leave the house without a stiff glass of something and one of Ian’s beloved American Spirits (Blacks, of course—Ian hated that “light” shit). Ian didn’t go “light” on anything. That’s part of what made him awesome, magnetic, and downright hilarious. He was so “on” all the time I’d get worn down trying to keep pace, whether he was setting a skintrack or ranting for hours about his latest invention. Like “Mother Fudgers,” a snack bar he’d concocted of his mom’s homemade Vermont Maple Fudge and the fresh peanut butter Elizabeth, his fiancé, churned out. I friggin’ miss those things.

We mourned the only way we knew how: friends sought each other out at bars and homes filled by crying and smiling, story telling, drinking and smoking, hugging and holding … on. Old friends rejoined for the wrong reason; new friends were made trying to make a shared burden lighter.
And through it all, up to this very moment, from somewhere in my barely subconscious, questions keep surfacing, and I’m riddled with self-doubt. “Is it time to quit riding the backcountry, hang up the split and be content just snowboarding inbounds? Can I hang it up?” After all, I’m the editor of a f–cking backcountry snowboard magazine. It’s what I do. But is it who I am? I feel terrible guilt for being selfish, thinking about myself—about snowboarding—when so many are hurting so bad. But I can’t plug the stream of thoughts no matter how hard I try.

Because I can’t ignore the truth: this is the second close friend and riding partner I’ve lost to an avalanche. Mike Bowen, another CB local, being the other. Upon hearing about the Loveland avy, an old friend who also suffered through Mike’s loss extended her condolences. Completely deflated, I asked her, “When will it end?” And she responded, “It won’t end until you choose not to go. I hope that will be your choice.”

I wish it were that easy.

Mountains don’t crave us. We crave the mountains. Three months after the avalanche I still haven’t decided when and if I’ll ride the backcountry again. If I want it … need it. It’s a different place for me now, less pure and idyllic. I used to love the mountains unconditionally, crave them, and look up to their peaks in reverence. Now there’s a small part of me that hates the mountains and every flake that falls in winter for taking my friends.

The legacy of these five men lives on and blossoms. It’s evident in the creation of the non-profit IAN Fund, formed to aid children of avalanche victims; in the naming of an Alaska summit in Joe Timlin’s honor; and by the five apple trees—one for each man lost—planted on the Novak family farm in New York this spring. It’s carried forward in the lives touched by Rick and Chris and all these men.

Once the desert rain began to subside on April 20, I stepped out of the car, unsure of what to do. As we packed up camp to head home and gather with friends, sun spilled through the clouds from the west and cast a brilliant rainbow. In that moment, I couldn’t help but feel as if it meant something. And even though my critical mind called bullshit, I felt assured the Loveland Five were someplace beautiful.

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  1. GeorgIana carr says:

    Thank you Mike Horn . The parents of Joe Timlin and Chris Peters keep due. Diligence for all of us up at the trailhead where our boys were lost. The Peters climbed up there today to leave flowers . We have an avalanche warning sign in their memory, a beautiful sandstone memorial stone, and soon to be 5 log seats with Ian, Chris, Joe, Rick, and Ryan carved into them. We need seating in this beautiful meadow. All are welcome. We will ever replace what we lost, but anything we can do to keep them with us, we will.

  2. Memories can certainly serve as potent reminders.

    Just a note of clarification for the editors: Loveland, CO is in the flatlands NE of Boulder. Loveland Ski Area, Loveland Pass, and Loveland Valley are in the mountains.

    “Let’s be careful out there.”

  3. Fayette Lamphere says:

    Thanks for this wonderful article, though it’s hard to read with these old teary eyes..

  4. Sue Peters says:

    So very kind of you, Mike. Not a day goes by that we do not think of our children or spouse. John & I feel some peace by spending time up at the pass. We along with Timlins are like the caretakers of the area. I miss my son everyday
    but also feel that he is always with me.

  5. The opening paragraph needs editing to reflect the correct names of those involved, chiefly Rick Gaukel who was killed should be replaced for Ryan Lamphere who was not involved?

  6. Lisa Dirth says:

    I am the mother of the first fatality of the 2013-14 season, George Dirth. He was with me when we got the news about the Loveland 5 accident. He was torn apart by it even though he didn’t personally know any of the guys, just as facebook friends through the splitboard pages. Unfortunately that event did not prevent his accident. I have started The George Dirth Scholarship Fund for AIARE Level 1 course scholarships. Perhaps that coupled with the ever present reminders of the human factor and people pushing the education, preparation, equipment, and using your head in so many online venues has substantially decreased the number of fatalities this year. The snowpack was also a contributing factor but it is the lowest ever since the reporting by CAIC began in 2006-2007. One can only hope. PLEASE get educated, go with someone who is educated, have the proper equipment, be smart, and most important come home. No line is worth dying for. Think about those you will leave behind. My heart is forever broken. Be careful out there!!

  7. Bryan lamphere says:

    Very well said Mike!

  8. It’s days from being 10 years. They were all my friends and we dug them up. I see that day every day. No fixing that. I love you all forever

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