Family, friends remember Michael Goerne at Carbondale memorial
Ben Johnston called Michael Goerne a “man worth knowing.” Last month, only a few days after Goerne died in an avalanche near Crested Butte, Johnston sat down and penned a letter to his infant son about his friend and colleague.
The two worked together at Balcomb and Green law firm in Glenwood Springs, where Johnston was an attorney and Goerne the business manager. It wasn’t an immediate friendship, but soon enough, Goerne’s unique ability to bring down barriers led to the inevitable.
“It was hard not to be Mike’s friend. If you resisted, he would somehow will your friendship into existence,” Johnston said. “He had a unique ability to bore into your soul, plant a seed and flourish. When you were around Mike, you felt like you were his most important friend in the world. But the truth is, Mike made all his friends feel that way.”
Johnston was among a small handful to give a eulogy Saturday during Goerne’s memorial service, held at The Orchard in Carbondale. Saturday marked exactly one month since Goerne’s Feb. 16 accident, which also took the life of Aspen’s Owen Green. Green, 27, and Goerne, 37, had been training for the Grand Traverse ski mountaineering race when the avalanche occurred in the East Brush Creek area.
“The reality is there will never be enough words or stories to describe the incredible person that Mike was. He was so many things to so many people,” said Katie Holl, Goerne’s younger sister. “What he ultimately was was an inspiration. Since Mike was born, he had an innate energy about him. He had a gravitational pull that drew people in.”
Goerne came to Carbondale from Edina, Minnesota. He had a passion for lacrosse, founding the Edina Lacrosse Association when he was only 15. This would become the high school’s lacrosse team, which to this day still hands out the Michael Goerne Leadership Award to one of its athletes each year.
Goerne went on to play at Marist College in New York, where he was believed to have been the first Minnesota native to play Division I lacrosse. He graduated in 2004 with a degree in business administration and finance. Upon his arrival in Carbondale soon after graduation, Goerne helped start Jaywalker Lodge, an addiction treatment center, alongside Bob Ferguson.
What Goerne will likely be remembered for the most in the Roaring Fork Valley is for starting the Aspen Lacrosse Club in 2006. This paved the way for the Aspen High School lacrosse team, where he was its first coach and led it to the 2015 state championship before stepping down. Ferguson’s son, Harry, was a senior on that 2015 team.
Bob Ferguson recalled that time, many years ago, when Goerne got roughly 15 kids together, all in the second grade, for a two-day lacrosse camp in Snowmass.
“From those humble beginnings a youth lacrosse program was born in our community and a far-fetched, crazy idea was hatched in the back of a young coach’s mind,” Ferguson said. “How could any of us have known, way back then, the scope and the impact of Mike’s vision? A vision that would ultimately become the Aspen Lacrosse Club, whose membership (now) numbers around 400 young athletes.”
Goerne also was passionate about CrossFit, which is where Erik Larson and he became friends. Larson, who later founded Aspen CrossFit, recalls having reached out to Goerne about lacrosse gear for his son, Luke, who had a growing interest in the sport. Goerne didn’t hesitate, inviting them down to Carbondale where he had plenty of extra gear in his storage unit.
“I still remember the look of anticipation on Luke’s face. As Mike threw the door to that storage unit open, Luke was like a kid at Christmas,” Larson said. “With an incredible sense of care, he soon got down on Luke’s level, who was 9 at the time, and presented him with his first lacrosse kit. Luke wore those gloves all the way home as we drove back upvalley, and that moment in time left a lasting impression on a young boy, who is now 17 and recently told this same story to his grandmother.”
All those who spoke Saturday in Carbondale described Goerne in much the same way. He was persistent. He was passionate. He was driven. He was infectious. But most of all, he was a friend whose legacy will linger here in the Roaring Fork Valley for years to come.
“Mike lived such a full life. Mike had no regrets because he truly lived in the present,” Holl said. “What I admired most about all his character traits and virtues was his ability to take responsibility for his life and accept there were always choices. And Mike always, without a doubt, made the choice to rise above, to move forward and to conquer life with a positive attitude and a whole lot of love.”