Dear Steve — A Letter to Romeo


This post by WildSnow.com blogger  

Dear Steve,

Perhaps you are reading this.

Me, I believe people live on after they pass, so yeah, you might be checking this out. Or perhaps you’ve got better things to do…

In any event, I’m of course alluding to one of the great mysteries of life (if not THE mystery) — a mystery every last one of us will know the answer to eventually — as I suppose you do now.

Mysteries are familiar to us alpinists, are they not?

Steve Romeo a few years ago in Utah.

Steve Romeo a few years ago in Utah.

It is easy to imagine you and Chris up there on that Teton peak avalanche path last Wednesday. You were talking about the snow stability, the weather, the ski run you anticipated, what time you’d need to return to get your town tasks done. You probably had good reasons to think climbing that thing was ok, but the mystery of knowing-for-sure about the snow stability would have been as present in your day as a 20,000 foot alpine thunderstorm lofting on the horizon.

I know, because I’ve minded that mystery so many times myself. We take the data, process it, go or no-go. Easy to be right. Easy to be wrong. Too easy, really. Mystery.

I could sit here as a blogger and keyboard like a drunken fool about what you were doing up there. And if I’d messed up instead of you, you’d probably have been tempted to do the same. Hard. After all, you chose the blogger path. As did I. Yeah, we’d both be tempted.

After all: I am, therefore I blog? I can see us raising a glass and a laugh at that little bit of silliness — but with a hint of irony because we both know truth is buried in there, however painful.

In your case I don’t see need for much in the way of technical examination. We all know you chose to ski the steeps of the Tetons, at times when avalanches were possible, and thus something bad could happen. Pretty obvious you knew that too. I’d sound like an idiot if I tried to deny that — if I attempted to sugar coat the greater circumstances leading up to your death. Wherever you are now, the moment you saw me equivocating you’d slap your computer screen, groan, and start editing your wildlife photos — anything but reading Lou blabbing on about your screwup and how you were some kind of innocent babe in the snow that the mountain got the better of — or conversely, someone who ignored safety procedures and protocols. You were not those things. Sometimes to a fault, (as you so abundantly shared on your blog), you were not an innocent.

I had immense respect for the game you played. It takes amazing smarts and no small amount of boldness to ski the winter steeps. Brain and courage, are not those an ideal? Yes, they are, and that’s why alpinists like you serve humanity. Like any explorer, you show us the extent of our human capacity for excellence, in turn, inspiring us to do well in any endeavor.

At the same time what you did was not a game for everyone, and I know you’d agree it should not be superficially glorified. Mine and others’ respect should not be taken for blanket approval. If I may don my “old guy” hat for a moment, I’d remind any of you cubs out there to be very conscious and mindful if you choose to take up ski alpinism as Steve did. You will inspire people. You will lead a grand life with immense personal satisfaction. You might even make a living — or at least get a free pair of skis. But you might pay the ultimate price. Lecture over.

Steve, also, while the inspiration from your adventures and subsequent publishing endeavors could be brilliant, in many cases it was also somewhat mundane. In a good way. I’m talking about things like your invoking a high-five raised above the grey muck of a cube farm on a beater Thursday morning. Sure, guys taking their morning “ski and coffee” web browsing break could just be looking for raw entertainment, but I have no doubt the inspiration and positive vibe you brought to those folks was still an important gift. Not everyone can be a ski bum. But everyone can be inspired by a ski bum.

And if I have my statistics right, most of those guys in those offices and shops would get out skiing eventually. Perhaps more, and better, and having more fun, thanks to you.

Your work also spoke to fellow alpinists who’d been or were still operating at your level. Your voice caused us to pause and for a moment harken back to the pure visceral joy of climbing up and skiing down a big line, a happiness so inexplicably knotted in our human core we will sacrifice all to achieve it, as you did.

Oh, I just remembered something. Yeah, it seems kind of trivial now to talk about our respective blog business endeavors. Yet a few things do come to mind that might amuse you or our readers. After all, I blog…

As we spoke together about many times, your blogging started a few years after WildSnow began. We did work together during the birth process of TetonAT, starting with you doing some guest blogging at WildSnow, then me agreeing to help you out by linking to your nascent website and thus providing an instant traffic source. Really, we were both clueless back in those days. Me just far enough ahead to look like a genius — at least to myself anyway. What I remember so clearly about things since then is how friendly you always were to me as you grew larger and made your own mark.

In the end, you made me a better person because I learned how to be gracious in business. More, you helped me to see the humor in our trivial competition for reader numbers (many read both, as we came to know), and we did have some hilarious conversations about how irrationally sensitive to criticism some of the gear makers are (as well as commiserating on how to offer gear opinions, but still find some sponsors).

I also remember how your posture would change, your eyes perk up and your ears wriggle when I started hinting at just-who-was-buying-what when it came to advertising. And just how many readers did WildSnow.com have? It never occurred to me at the time, but I’ll bet I was telegraphing the same when you’d start hinting your details. After all, neither you nor I were the stone Trumps of the web world. We were just a couple of skiers become hackers, really, who discovered their voices.

Your voice was fun, a bit zany at times, exciting. Truly and enjoyably unique; fun to watch as you found it and developed it. Any would-be blogger can learn from your journey, and I hope your content remains published for us all to enjoy for years from now.

Yes, the questions will be asked. The mystery is there — always filling the room when these sorts of things happen. Steve, is your sacrifice ok? The pain you caused your loved ones and friends? The cutting short of your own life, that could have led to so many things: creative works; children?

Way greater minds than mine have attempted the answers.

Beyond my feeble efforts above, let me simply say to you that I know you chose your path, that you were mindful. Thanks for the gifts you gave us from that, and your smile along the way.

Newspaper article.

Comments

33 Responses to “Dear Steve — A Letter to Romeo”

  1. Jon March 13th, 2012 9:43 am

    Lou,
    Thanks for sharing. I can’t say I knew Steve, no more than I really know you. I’ve bumped into you both at OR, and have read both of your blogs for a long time I’ve found wisdom, humor and the occasional controversy. It make you into more than those guys on the net, maybe not friends, but someone I know I could drink a beer with and slide pretty easily into conversation with like we were friends.

    That makes it hurt when someone like Steve is gone.

    I am weary to my soul of 2012. Steve is the fourth friend or acquaintance to pass in the mountains this year. One died in my arms. Yet I will keep going back. A little sadder. A little wiser (I hope). With the same joy that keeps us all going back.

    Thank you Lou, and Steve, and all the others who help remind us of the joys, and the unfortunate sorrows, of the mountains and our shared passions.

    LIVE to ski. I always liked the line.

  2. Clyde March 13th, 2012 9:55 am

    Nice Lou.

  3. Bob March 13th, 2012 10:47 am

    Thank you Lou

  4. Chris Larson March 13th, 2012 11:28 am

    Very well said. The memorial is this afternoon/evening, but I don’t think I can make it over. It’s been a tough year.

  5. Rick March 13th, 2012 11:37 am

    Brilliantly crafted, asking the questions that need to be asked, and showing the respect so deserved this close to Steve’s passing. I could read it many more times and undoubtedly would discover that I missed much of it by only reading it three or four times.

    This passage gives me pause: “Steve, is your sacrifice ok? The pain you caused your loved ones and friends? The cutting short of your own life, that could have led to so many things: creative works; children?” Ultimately, our life is but ours and ours alone to give. That’s important, really important, in the answer that all of us seek in this tragedy.

  6. Nick March 13th, 2012 11:45 am

    Lou,

    Thanks for the well written response. Like Jon, this has been a pretty bad winter for me as well, with one lost to an avalanche (not Steve, who I was never fortunate enough to meet) and another who just underwent an amputation due to a high speed crash into a tree. Over the last six years, I have lost six friends to the mountains, and the questions that arise in these times are not to be taken lightly. Inevitably we ask why we place ourselves in such danger, and at these times the superficial logic that we all use to reason our own level of risk breaks down and we see the real danger staring us in the face (Will Gad just published a great piece about this, and is worth a read). To see someone as experienced as Steve lost to a slide brings to the forefront how risky some of the activities we participate in are, and despite my own best efforts to adhere to my own level of acceptable risk, we never escape the reality that skiing/climbing/etc can come at the highest price.
    Each time someone is lost I take some time to re-evaluate- is this something that I want to continue to participate in? Do I need to adjust what I consider an acceptable risk level? Should I take up golf instead? And, each time I ultimately come to the conclusion that what I do is a part of me, defines me, and brings so much meaningfulness that to live without the mountains would be impossible. In a way these events have come to make me a better person and a much more educated and safe one- something like a final gift from those we love. The death of friends has pushed me to learn, to immerse myself in snow science, to practice and maintain a strong understanding of emergency medicine, to be able to execute a rescue competently and effectively. It has made me truly come to terms with the risks of these activities, and to then be able to make the decision to continue with a real and profound understanding.
    I would like to also thank you for your candor- far too often the decisions that precede an accident are glossed over, or just attributed to ignorance or stupidity. Yes, Steve was out in dangerous terrain and at risk. But, he understood that risk. He made the decision to be there, doing what he loved, and did so knowledgeably. As you are aware the line between coming home safe and not is thin, ever more so in the terrain that Steve spent his time in. I know I have crossed it several times, but been fortunate enough to come away only with lessons learned and new respect for the mountains.
    I am saddened to see someone that I had so much respect for go- I have truly enjoyed reading about his adventures, and the excitement he had for the mountains was absolutely infectious. My sincere condolences go out to his family, friends, and the community- it shows how much he was cared for in the responses from across the globe who did not know him personally, but felt that he was a friend from his great shared experiences.

  7. Patrick March 13th, 2012 11:53 am

    Super remembrance, Lou. Very thoughtfully comprehensive…thanks.

  8. Mark W March 13th, 2012 12:56 pm

    Cool tribute, with touching format. Thanks.

  9. Bill March 13th, 2012 12:56 pm

    Thanks Lou

    For many of us it is so hard to put the words together, especially being stunned by this loss.Your words echo so much of my thoughts.
    Both you, and Steve are such a great inspiration to me and many others and his loss is felt so profoundly.

  10. David Newstead March 13th, 2012 2:16 pm

    Lou,

    You got your stats right. My morning ‘ski and coffee’ is just that little bit more hollow now. I don’t get out as much as I’d like but when I do it’s ever the so much more wise because of people like you and Steve.

    Thanks.

  11. Caleb Wray March 13th, 2012 2:41 pm

    Very well articulated Lou. Thank you. I dread the day I get the phone call that one of my dear friends has been taken by the mountains, but at the same time Steve’s death reminds me that it will likely happen. However I am also reminded that my life wouldn’t be as rich without the mountains and these dear friends. Those things that are most precious usually have a high price. I thought quite a bit about Steve as I moved my Dynafits uphill the other morning. Be safe friends.

  12. Doug March 13th, 2012 3:38 pm

    Great letter Lou. Thank you very much for sharing.

  13. Dostie March 13th, 2012 3:40 pm

    Thanks for the thoughts Lou. Lots of folks asked me if I knew Steve. Not really. I think our paths crossed once at a Powder keg, but mine crossed his many minutes later. ;)

    Your words (above) confirm what I would have surmised about Steve and you nailed it with this…”Your voice caused us to pause and for a moment harken back to the pure visceral joy of climbing up and skiing down a big line, a happiness so inexplicably knotted in our human core we will sacrifice all to achieve it, as you did.”

    It’s a mystery how we can miss someone we never knew but were related to by the similarity of things we do.

    Adios Mr. Romeo. May you rest in peace.

  14. Dave March 13th, 2012 9:39 pm

    Just returned home from Steve and Chris’s well attended celebration of life memorial. What a great community I live in. Those two will be sorely missed. Thanks for your thoughts.

  15. Dave J. March 13th, 2012 10:17 pm

    Well said, Lou. I didn’t know Steve, but felt I did following his blog. Frankly, I worried about him. The path he chose – pushing the limits – was risky. Obviously, he knew that and felt the fulfillment he gained was worth the risk. The mountains, sadly, are brutally unforgiving. I wish his family and friends heartfelt condolences as they deal with this tragic loss.

  16. Lou March 13th, 2012 11:37 pm

    Hi All, I just got back from the memorial service for Chris and Steve held in the “square” at the base of Jackson ski resort. It was beautiful, but heart wrenching. Amazing to see the graceful honor their friends and family bestowed upon them. I didn’t know Chris, wish I had. One thing was clear in the whole thing, these were indeed inspirational individuals to a lot of people. Gotta hit the land of now, but have to say I just witnessed the Teton alpinist community at its best. I’m so sorry for the loss, and hole in the fabric of the Jackson community that this tragedy leaves.

  17. AJ March 14th, 2012 7:22 am

    Thank you Lou, life really is a big questionmark.

    Thank you Steve for sharing your adventures, inspiring people around the world, rest in peace.

  18. g March 14th, 2012 8:54 am

    Lou:

    I dare say that this is the most poignant piece of journalism that has graced your site. Very well stated, in all ways. All of the unasked questions and comments sit like elephants in the room, and that is ok. I have to imagine Steve was ok with his “sacrifice”, since he probably knew better than anyone the risk – odds game he was a willing participant of by spending more time in the tetons, skiing, in the winter, than anyone over the last seven years.

  19. Eggman March 14th, 2012 9:08 am

    Lou, glad that you made it up to Jackson for the memorial. We do have a great supportive community here and the Boys will be remembered with smiles and turns. I worked with Chris at the tram, got to take him up the Grand his first time back in 2002; knew Steve from the Moosely days at Dornans….empty chairs at the table now…skiing is life, and life is short….

  20. Daniel March 14th, 2012 9:51 am

    thanks Lou, well said. I don’t have much to say on this issue, cause I’m totally broken up about it, so Thank You

  21. Geoff March 14th, 2012 10:34 am

    Lou,

    That was perhaps the best article you have ever written. . As I stare out the window in austria at the setting of another day, the joy of the lines we skied still are ringing in my soul. I know I can not leave the mountains, not yet anyway. But as I arrived back to our place, I found out about the passing of another great member of our ski tribe up in Alaska.

    Two difficult deaths for me again this year. Your words give some solace to me. Thanks again for sharing. Be safe out there.

    Geoff

  22. canwilf March 14th, 2012 11:49 am

    Nicely put. Thanks Lou.

  23. Brittany March 14th, 2012 4:39 pm

    I toy with the same thoughts on a daily basis. This year has been brutal when it comes to ones we know being taken by the mountains. Thanks for your thoughtful letter.

  24. John March 14th, 2012 5:06 pm

    Very poignant, thanks. I never met either of these “brothers in snow” but their deaths have hit me extremely hard. I’m a daily reader of tetonat.com and have been inspired tremendously by the stories, pictures and humor over the past several years. One of the things that I really appreciated about Steve and his blogging was that he was just an ordinary guy, someone you could relate to. Not that he didn’t possess extraordinary skills but that he was someone who just charged it on his own; no helicopters, planes, or unlimited sponsorship budget. That to me was what was so inspiring about Steve; if you had the passion, dedication, and love for the sport then you too could have these unbelievable adventures. For me, backcountry skiing/snowboarding is an escape from all that is bad in life and a return to what is truly important; companionship, untracked snow, and being out in the elements on your own . Because of that I think it attracts a certain breed of people. Steve and Chris exemplified this breed of genuinely good people with the common love of snow. I feel like I lost a best friend and for that I’m incredibly saddened. I hope their families can take some solace in the fact that they were such inspiring individuals.

  25. Lou March 14th, 2012 6:38 pm

    Hi folks, had a bit of a hiatus from being “his blogness” (grin) as Steve used to call me, as I had to get that drive done from Jackson on down here (always seems to be at least 7 hours), then race up here to Aspen airport and pick up my wife from her recent family travels. Shew.

    I just want to thank you all for the comments, I’m sure Steve’s family and circle are seeing them, and everything helps.

    Geoff, thanks for your support, that was tough to write but sometimes the better stuff, is, tough to write. Like I told someone just yesterday, gear reviews are easy, the “real” stuff can take something more than a half hour and a beer to get through the keyboard…

    Let’s all keep talking about this stuff. Important.

  26. Big Tim March 14th, 2012 10:33 pm

    Thanks…well said Lou. Steve was inspiring as are you.

    BT

  27. Lou March 15th, 2012 11:14 am

    Thanks Tim…

  28. Friend March 18th, 2012 5:15 pm

    As someone who worked directly with Chris, and indirectly with Steve, at the Village for a number of years (in the mid 1990’s), I echo the sentiments of so many others here. The void is all too literal and real, and yet, the loss of both men is stunningly surreal or worse something I won’t readily admit.

    I still seek to talk shop with both of them, wave and smile, or find the scoop on conditions and such. But what I find instead is a sad drive by Steve’s condo, or a melancholy that comes from not seeing Chris on his regular perch atop the highest point of either tram cars.

    What I should be seeking is the serenity of the Tetons they both loved, or basking in the alpenglow views from Glory Peak. I should be better appreciating the, ‘these views never grow old’ feelings I get each time I observe the ever changing light on the Tetons. And I certainly should be appreciating (even more than I already do) the people in my life who inspire me and/or those who I love. I resolve to do all of these regularly in the near future, but feel a bit distracted from that now – the loss of Chris and Steve make this harder to muster the energy to appreciate or do.

    I keep expecting to see new posts on Steve’s blog, which I have checked out a number of times since his passing – even though I know what I’ll see. His site just still seems to draw me in like metal to a magnet. I want to read posts that just will not come!!

    Likewise, I want to have an old buddy wave from somewhere near the tram, and in his rough voice ask, “Whatcha up to? Staying inbounds today with the kids are ya? They skiing Corbets yet? Either way, it’s all good, but if they haven’t, be sure to show ‘em what it looks like to get them psyched for it someday!”

    Kinda want these feelings to subside faster than mourning will allow. But that’s not the course for this sort of thing. When these feelings do evaporate, I promise to make even more of each day than I had before their passing. So too will I give an even firmer handshake or a broader hug to the people in my life who I know, will come to know, and/or love!!!

    Just posting here has helped me heal a bit more and feel a bit less of a hole in the heart than I had just before getting these thoughts out.

  29. Lou March 18th, 2012 5:51 pm

    Friend. Thanks.

  30. Joe March 18th, 2012 10:48 pm

    It was because of these two guys Steve and you Lou that I decided years ago to pack my stuff up to and venture to bigger mountains and bigger dreams out west. If it wasn’t the Elks it surely would have been the Tetons. To say that I read, study, and want to know more would be an understatement. Within both blogs were true life lessons that I hope I can pass on to just a few others as you have both done for thousands daily.

    Wonderfully written Lou and I wish more than anything all the best to Steve and Chris’ families in the future.

  31. ml242 March 25th, 2012 2:20 pm

    Great article. There’s been so much to grieve over this year it is hard to process all of it. Thanks for putting some articulate thoughts into words.

  32. Tom March 27th, 2012 9:11 am

    Lou
    Thanks for the wonderful write up. I have some personal observations which lead me to a question for you. I keep checking the tetonat site wondering what is going to happen to it. 5 years ago I wouldn’t have even thought about something like this but Randos death saddened me more than I would have expected. Will I go to it one day and it won’t exist? WIll someone else take over the domain when it comes up for renewal (as a memorial or continued ski blog)? What would happen to your site if you weren’t around any more? I had never considered these questions until the last couple of weeks and just wondered what you had to say about it.

  33. Lou March 27th, 2012 9:25 am

    Tom, interesting question. Steve’s site is worth some money, and his family probably now own it. I have no idea what they’ll do with it. Someone could possibly take it over, but doing so would be incredibly tough since Steve’s voice and content were most of what made the site popular. I wouldn’t be surprised if Steve’s family has already had some offers from publishers.

    WildSnow is big enough, with enough people involved, so it could easily continue as a publishing business without me around. I work full time on it, all it would take is someone with some web as well as backcountry chops to go at it full time, developing content, managing a group of contributors, etc. There would be a transition period and perhaps it wouldn’t be as popular (I flatter myself), but it could easily continue.

    I think Steve’s site would be harder to continue as is, but it could still continue. If nothing else, while things like the gear revues will become dated, most of his content is valuable as a resource for Teton area skiers.

    Missing him.

    P.S., I should have said before that if Steve’s family needs any advice or ideas about skiing blogs and so forth, I’d be happy to help.

    Lou

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Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information opinion website and e magazine. Lou's passion for the past 45 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about backcountry skiing and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free back country news and information here, and tons of Randonnee rando telemark info.

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