When word first got to me early Tuesday afternoon that rescuers were heading out toward Climax Chutes for an avalanche rescue, I held my breath. While not in the backcountry ski crowd, I get out on the backcountry bunny hills enough to know many of those still skiing in spring and I understand the danger of spring skiing. I hoped I wouldn’t know who was caught in what would probably be a wet slab avalanche.
Later that afternoon word was that there was a fatality and I again held my breath. And then the breath was literally taken out of me when I heard the name. I saw Dan Escalante Sunday walking through town with a smile on his face. As always, he was nice. Dan was just nice. He was positive and he was kind. He was a good soul. We had talked for a half hour on the phone Friday about a project he was working on in Crested Butte South. He was upset at some things taking place out there but he was nice about it.
Dan was one of the backcountry guides for a group of us in January and he was typical Dan. Encouraging, skilled, gentle, he got a variety of skier types up Gothic. He shared the beer and tequila after and we chatted a long time about life, his priorities, his disappointment in some of the changes to the community, his love for his family. He touched on local issues and as a former town councilman, he talked about things he wished were different and about things he was glad to see stay the same.
Dan was passionate about his life. He loved being in the mountains and loved riding the snow. He let life take him wherever it went, which was sometimes a tiny house or condo, sometimes a hunting camp, sometimes a friend’s couch or a blow-up mattress in his parents’ living room. Whether it was the community, his friends, his family, he had the ability to be passionate and gentle at the same time. That is a gift. And that gift left us Tuesday morning high on Mt. Emmons beneath a blazing sun and crystal blue sky.
As I write this, my breath is still taken away as grieving begins over the loss of a good Crested Butte man, “one of the most beautiful humans,” as one of his good friends put it. We all lost a good one this week and that makes me sad.