Living in a place that comes with risk

Solid. That seemed to be the most common description of Eric Freson who lost his life last weekend in an avalanche in the Anthracites west of Crested Butte. I didn’t know him personally but in this small community there is only one, two, maybe three degrees of separation at most. We are all connected. And once embraced by this place, the connection lasts forever.

Eric’s passing cast a pall over the valley as he seemed to be that guy that represented most of us in some form. He skied, biked, kayaked, hunted, participated in the community, had good friends and lived life deeply. I saw somewhere online that he described himself as an “adrenaline enthusiast.” He seemed like so many others here that jump into the deep end of what this place offers. And what it offers is deeply rich…but not without some risk.

Look, you don’t live here in contentment if you want a shopping mall, late night fast food and stoplights near the postcard ski town. You live here in part because you love fresh air, crystal blue skies, a slower life pace, the small-town vibe and temps on the colder side. Mountains are our touchstone. You can live here and appreciate art as well as access to magnificent nature and a deep community, but if you want to get to an Avs game or a Costco in 15 minutes, this ain’t the place. We are children of the mountains.

Some would say that we too often lose members of our tribe because of the ever-present wild elements of CB and Gunny — whether that is the party scene, the draw of the backcountry or the softer social boundaries of a ski town. That is a fair surface assessment. Here, personal losses just come differently and often surprisingly compared to the “real world” and there is certainly truth to the claim that many are simply too young to pass to the other side. But honestly, that is part of the deal in a small mountain town that attracts adrenaline enthusiasts. And while always a sad experience, it is what it is. It comes with the risk of choosing to live and play in these mountains. 

It is normal and right to grieve this and every loss, and late Tuesday night word spread of a CB mid-timer connected to the valley who also tragically passed to the other side. Kasha Rigby apparently fell to an avalanche in Europe and again, in this small town, once connected you are always connected, so this too is heartbreaking. If it is all too much to handle, know you are not alone and resources to help deal can be found on the CB State of Mind webpage.

But the heartbreak, the risk, won’t deter our friends and neighbors from venturing out for adventure. Nor should it.

As the head of the local search and rescue team, Randy Felix noted this week when answering questions about what was certainly a difficult emergency call for not just a member of the community, but for one of their kindred spirits and close friends, it is not an easy time. But it probably won’t be the last time…

“We are extremely sad to lose our friend, community member, outdoorsman, hunter, backcountry skier and all-around standup person we should all hope to emulate. Even after these tragic accidents, we know people are going to continue to get after it in the backcountry. It’s one of the reasons we live here,” he said from experience.

It is indeed. And while thinking about that — thanks to those who keep an eye out for the greater community and continue to go out there when the need arises. So, take the rest of Randy’s advice and be prepared when heading out into the woods.

While most of us probably won’t seek out the experience of skiing the Playground in February, we all get after it in some way or another. And that is a good thing and a thing that comes with pleasure and purpose and often, risk. It is one reason we live here. For people in this community, there is comfort pushing an edge, whatever that individual edge might be.

I didn’t know Eric personally, but it is obvious he embodied a lot of the spirit of this place and the people who choose to live in a small, adventurous community in the Rocky Mountains. Kasha did as well. I feel sadness for family and friends but appreciate what appears to be Eric’s love and active embrace for what this place, our home, offers. 

Solid.

—Mark Reaman

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