Uphillers head to Sunlight for final hurrah in memory of a local adventurer | AspenTimes.com

Uphillers head to Sunlight for final hurrah in memory of a local adventurer

The late Joel Shute, who was killed in an avalanche near Marble on March 17, dons a snow beard on one of his many backcountry treks.
Joel Shute Facebook photo

Joel Shute was still fairly new to walking when he stepped into his first pair of skis and was sliding down the slopes of Sunlight Mountain Ski Resort before he was even 2.

So it seemed fitting that Shute’s legacy should live on with a new post-season event at Sunlight this Saturday.

Shute, who grew up in Glenwood Springs and was an avid backcountry skier, kayaker and pilot, was killed in an avalanche near Marble on March 17 when he was backcountry skiing with a group of friends.

The inaugural “Stroll for Joel” is an uphill-only event taking place from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday to honor Shute’s memory, with plans for it to become an annual event to top off the ski season.

Lifts will not be running, but anyone interested in skinning, snowshoeing, hiking or just coming up to hang out are invited to join.

The uphill route will be via Sun King, and depending on conditions, Sunlight will have one or two groomed trails for downhill skiing between Sun King and Joslin. 

Todd’s Tavern at the base of the mountain will also be open, and there will be a very limited food menu available, said Travis Baptiste, sales and events manager for Sunlight.

“As a member of the uphill and backcountry community, it always just hits home whenever someone dies in pursuit of happiness,” Baptiste said. “We just thought this would be a fun way to commemorate Joel and extend our season a little bit.

“It’s definitely not a one-off,” he added. “I think this is something we can build on in future years so everyone can remember him.”

Ski patrol will be on hand to provide safety during the event. A season pass or special $10 uphill pass is required, and can be purchased the day of the event.

The event also includes a fundraiser for area search and rescue organizations, and donations can be made on a GoFundMe page that was set up by the Friends of Joel. Donations can be made on site Saturday via a QR code that will be on display at the base.

The event was the brainchild of a group of Shute’s friends who attended his mountaintop celebration of life on March 26. About 100 people showed up on that bitter-cold day, and the consensus was to keep Shute’s legacy alive when it was a bit warmer, recalled Joel’s father, Steve Shute.

“They thought it would be fun to get together a bunch of buddies and do what he loved most,” Steve Shute said of Joel’s pursuits as a backcountry ski alpineer.

Among them were Jon Stokely and Brittany Beavers.

“I don’t trust just anyone out in the backcountry, but Joel was always somebody I knew I could trust and hands-down if there were someone I wanted out there with me it was Joel,” Stokely said.

“That’s one of the hardest things about this,” he added. “He was all about getting out there and having fun, but being responsible. That’s just the nature of the outdoors. It’s not trying to kill you, but it will.”

Joel Shute waves a pair of flags on top of Hayley Peak.
Courtesy photo

Part of the message of the inaugural event and going forward is intended to be around backcountry safety, and acknowledging the importance of search and rescue personnel who put their lives on the line to save others, Stokely said.

Shute was also known for his outrageous ski fashion statements, Stokely said, recalling Shute’s closing day antics at Aspen Highlands one year when he did three laps in the Highland Bowl using mini skis and wearing an obnoxious bright yellow onesie. 

“He always did this funny walk after getting to the bottom after a backcountry run, called the ‘Joel Stroll,'” Stokely also recalled.

Thus the “Stroll for Joel” event name.

Beavers said she wasn’t as much into backcountry skiing herself, having moved to Colorado from Florida. She said her fondest memories of Shute were on the many river floats they did together.

One such adventure was at night during the super moon last fall, she recalled.

“He just knew the river like the back of his hand, even in pitch black, and got us through those difficult sections with no issues,” Beavers said.

Always his companion on most river trips, and in the backcountry, was Shute’s Pomski dog, Bomba.

“Bomba would wear his little float coat, and would run around with my dog on the shore and get all sandy and dirty,” Beavers said. “We’d get back in the boat and Joel would grab Bomba by the handle, dip him in the water and use him as a squeegee to get the sand off the side.

“Those are the kinds of things I’ll always remember.”

Steve Shute, a pilot himself, said plans are to have a more formal memorial on April 22 and to spread Joel’s ashes from a plane above Thomas Lakes on Mt. Sopris.