Tragedy at Stevens Pass
Credit: Courtesy Chase Jarvis
Seventh heaven, the chair up Cowboy Mountain to Tunnel Creek, is an old and rickety double-seater that climbs steeply up the mountainside. At 11:30 am, the group hopped off the chair, passed through an open gate separating in-bounds from out, and began the steep 15-minute hike up Cowboy Ridge to the peak of Cowboy Mountain. Other skiers had come through this way that morning, breaking a trail, so the climb was manageable. "I saw Johnny [Brenan] on the way up," Stifter says, "and I told him that I missed seeing him at the bonfire the night before. He just smiled and said, 'Yeah, I was with the wife and kids.'" By 11:45 am, they had all reached the top, everyone smiling, getting geared up, and ready to go. A meadow of beautiful, untracked snow stretched out below them.

"We realized how big the group was by then and started separating ourselves and partnering up," Stifter says. He remembers Rudolph, in particular, being eager to start skiing. "I saw Chris, and he shouted at me, 'Remember when we skied this together four years ago?'" They split into groups that would go down separately, pulling into avalanche-safe spots on the slope to wait for one another and make sure they stayed together. Rudolph, Brenan, Saugstad, and Rob Castillo, a skier from Seattle, decided to join up, heading down before Jack. "We discussed what line we were going to ski and how we were going to ski it," Saugstad says. "I remember feeling excited to be there with this group and knew the snow was going to be really good. Chris went first, then me, and I was hooting the entire way because the snow was so awesome." They stopped about 500 feet down at a cluster of old-growth trees (trees are typically considered avalanche-safe because their roots offer anchorage for the snow). "We were all just chatting about where to head next."

At the top, Jack and Keith Carlsen, a photographer working for Powder, readied themselves. "We knocked fists through ski gloves," Carlsen says, "smiled at each other, and then I said, 'Have a great run.' Jim smiled back, let out a big whoop, and pushed out onto the apron of untouched snow." Jack went first, dropping into the meadow, skiing between the tracks of those who had already gone down, another backcountry safety measure. A powerful and graceful skier, his turns were smooth and fast. About 100 yards from the top, at 11:57 am, he leaned into a hard turn, the last he would ever make. "As he angled left into the fall line," Carlsen later wrote in Powder, Jack sank his skis and body into "the comforting embrace of over two feet of powder." Then the mountain released.