Paul E. Anna: High Points |

Paul E. Anna: High Points

Paul E. Anna
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

A death on the mountain is always difficult and, as we all know, we have had to deal with this kind of difficulty far too many times this ski season.

But I was particularly saddened this week by the newspaper accounts of the passing of Leif Borgeson, from apparently natural causes, following a snowy climb up Highland Bowl on Tuesday.

I had never met Leif but the details of his bio told the tale of a true mountain man who lived his life skiing and helping others cope with the dangers presented by the high-alpine environment. A ski patroller since the 1980s, a former Hotshot firefighter, a paramedic, an avalanche expert. This guy walked the talk and clearly made the Rockies his life. The photo published in the paper showed a fully bearded mountain man, appropriately seated on a chair lift.

At the time of his death he was the snow safety director at Arapahoe Basin, a mountain he had patrolled for more than two decades. With A-Basin’s long season, imagine how many hundreds of powder days he must have christened, riding and climbing the steeps before dawn to make sure the Basin was safe for skiers. Imagine how many thousands of late afternoon sweeps he performed, clearing the mountain at the end of the day, ensuring that all skiers got home to their families. Image how many millions of turns he must have made over every kind of snow condition.

When Leif started his climb up the Bowl on Tuesday no doubt he was anticipating the kind of epic conditions that would have made the climb worthwhile. I was struck by the contrast of Bob Ward’s On the Hill column on the opposite page from the story of Leif’s passing on Wednesday.

Under the title “Hitting the Powder Lottery,” Ward gushed about two days this past weekend when he found absolute nirvana in the very spot that Leif was climbing to ski. The joy that Ward felt as he floated through the powder underfoot was exactly the kind of experience that Leif was looking for in his final moments. We can all understand the quest, the climb, and yet it is so hard for us to fathom the “why” of his being denied.

There are cliches that are concocted to make us feel better in times like these: “He died doing what he loved” or “If you have to go, at least do it while you’re having fun.” But the fact is, they don’t soothe or salve the bewilderment and the pain of those who knew and miss the man. A husband and father of two boys, Leif was just 50 years old at the time of his death. A tragic loss of a man far too young to be taken from his family.

As I said, I never knew Leif Borgeson but I pledge to the guy who wrote an ode to him on the Teton Gravity Research blog, my next run will be for Leif.

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