Paul E. Anna: High Points |

Paul E. Anna: High Points

Paul E. Anna
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado


That is about the only appropriate word that comes to mind when contemplating the tragic death this past week of Adam Dennis.

I didn’t know him well but whenever we crossed paths he was terrific. A large and hearty presence, Adam seemed not to have a care in the world, was always engaging, and was the kind of “local” personality that we all like to think epitomizes the lifestyle of our town. In fact, he did.

Thirty-eight years old, skiing most days and taking pictures because he loved capturing the memories, the moments and the images of the mountains. He worked hard and was always friendly to all he came in contact with.

Yes, sad is the only word I can come up with.

As I wrote earlier this season it has been a difficult year here in the mountains. One filled with loss. Adam’s death follows those of Kiera Tongish in December at the age of 22, and the 25-year old Brandon Zukoff who was killed in February in an avalanche in the backcountry outside of Snowmass.

It is hard to fathom how such dire endings can befall such young and vibrant people in the literal prime of their lives. While Tongish’s accident was on-piste and inbounds, both Zukoff and Dennis were exploring the outer reaches of our mountains. Pushing beyond the prescribed boundaries and seeking out terrain and adventure that is wild and unregulated.

On the one hand you can’t argue with their passion for doing what they love. No doubt both young men understood the potential for danger and dire outcomes and yet they chose to go into areas like Desolation Row and the east Snowmass Creek drainage because they knew they would find exceptional snow and exhilarating challenges. And if you denied them the opportunities to do just that, to live their lives exactly as they wanted, you are taking from them that thing that makes them the most alive.

But on the other, their actions affect so many others who are suffering today from loss and the pain of knowing that they will never see these two young men again. It is a conundrum to make sense of it, especially during a time of loss.

In another mountain town, Zermatt, Switzerland, there is a cemetery which holds the final resting place for climbers who have died while attempting to scale the Matterhorn. It is filled with young people who over the last century or so have felt the allure of danger and have chosen to risk everything in an attempt to surmount a challenge.

While it honors many, it also serves as a poignant warning for others that the mountains can quickly turn from an obsession to an executioner. Perhaps we could provide a place here in Aspen that serves the same duel purpose, a memorial to those who have gone before and a warning to those to come.

Perhaps such a memorial would also pay honor to those who toil with Mountain Rescue. Aside from the tasks of helping those in need, it is the people who work for Mountain Rescue who are tasked with the grim responsibility of removing the bodies from the mountains. A difficult job and one that is does not get the appreciation it deserves.

As we move ahead here in the spring let’s thank those at Mountain Rescue, press those who wish to visit the backcountry snows to be extremely smart and careful, and remember those who we lost this winter.

Sad indeed.

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