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When famed snowboarder Craig Kelly died in 2003 along with six others under an avalanche on the La Traviata couloir in Canada, the tragedy reverberated throughout North America. Not only was Kelly a celebrity, but the trip was guided and thus assumed to be safer, and having seven people all die in the same backcountry avalanche was mind numbing in how far it went from accepted avalanche safety protocol, (which calls for severely limiting the number of people in a group who are simultaneously exposed to avalanche hazard).
Most of the controversy and rhetoric has died to whispers, and the accident is fast becoming part of our backcountry skiing folklore. Lives were shattered, lessons were learned, memories persist.
Thus I wasn’t surprised when Minnesota alternative-country-folk band Romantica (defunct link removed 2015) released their new CD with the song “La Traviada,” a pop-country ballad mourning the loss of backcountry snowboarder Craig Kelly, and simply stating that overarching motivation we all experience: “Looking for one more ride, higher than the last one…looking for one more climb, tougher than the past one…”
Romantica song writer Ben Kyle told me in an email that the song was inspired by “Thin White Line,” an article about the avalanche written by Ted Kerasote and published in Outside Magazine.
I’m more a fan of rock and blues than the lightweight country style Romantica uses to render La Traviada, but the song is compelling and I like it. The rest of the album is lyrically interesting but musically a bit bland for my taste. Yet it makes a nice contrast to my usual musical diet so I’ll be listening. And it’s growing on me.
The burning question is why Romantica used the spelling “Traviada” instead of the correct “Traviata.” Following email from Romantica’s Ben Kyle explains that and more:
My association with Craig Kelly was not a very close one. I have only snowboarded once in my life (although I absolutely loved it and can promise I will again).
I was on a trip in the BWCA in Minnesota in early 2003 and found myself reading an article about the tragedy in the April 2003 issue of Outside Magazine (link below). I was intensely affected by the story and literally wrote the song right there around the campfire amongst the friends I was with. I can honestly say I hadn’t heard of Craig before reading the story but I was just so emotionally moved that the greatest among us… or any of us, can be swept away at the most inopportune, or uncanny of times, while doing exactly what we love or feel absolutely compelled to do. (I’m reminded of Steve Irwin). It seems Craig spent most of his life conquering nature and one sublime day nature covered him. To me it is both tragic and beautiful at the same time, like much of life.
It is interesting that the song ended up being spelled La Traviada, especially since I specifically went back a few months ago to research the true spelling…and somehow the alteration of ‘Traviada’ still made it’s way through to print. In some ways that is good because it provides some distance from the Verdi opera “La Traviata” and it also gives weight to the fiction element of the song. Every song carries fiction and fact and somewhere in the dance between the story and reality is where the power lies.