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Two men killed in Stevens Pass avalanche had South Sound roots

Post by Craig Hill / The News Tribune on Feb. 20, 2012 at 9:18 am with 23 Comments »
February 20, 2012 1:41 pm

Two of the men who died in a backcountry avalanche Sunday at Stevens Pass had roots in the South Sound.

Chris Rudolph, 30, was a graduate of the University of Puget Sound and Jim Jack, 46, was a product of Lakewood’s Lakes High.

Both learned to ski as children, were experienced in the backcountry and understood well the risk of their sport. John Brenan, 41, was a Peshastin resident who moved to Washington from Colorado.

Rudolph grew up near Lake Tahoe and moved to Northwest to attend UPS. Shortly after graduating he was hired at Stevens Pass in 2005. During many interviews with The News Tribune over the past seven years he expressed his love for a job that kept him on the slopes more than 100 days per year.

In 2005, as he was settling in as marketing director at Stevens Pass, he was already smitten by Stevens’ backcountry.

“There is some great terrain out there,” Rudolph told The News Tribune. “You can even ski down to the mouth of an old train tunnel.”

He’d rarely wait for the ski area to open each winter before hitting the slopes. In 2007 he took his first run in the Stevens Pass backcountry on Oct. 2, more than five weeks before the ski area opened.

He promoted the ski area to action sports filmmakers and was excited to promote the ski area’s new summer mountain bike operations.

“Chris was just the most wonderful son in the world, and we loved him so deeply,” Ross Rudolph, Chris’s father, told The Seattle Times on Sunday. “Our hearts are just broken.”

Jim Jack, 46, graduated from Lakes High and attended Central Washington University before transferring to Wenatchee Valley Community College to pursue a degree ski resort management.

He worked as a judge on the Subaru World Freeskiing Tour. In November he talked to about the risk of his sport and how it was important for judges to discourage unsafe behavior.

“We do not want to find ourselves rewarding or encouraging dangerous or uncalculated decisions in skiing,” Jack told the website.

Jack was well known in skiing circles and so beloved in Leavenworth that a burger was named in his honor at Uncle Uli’s Pub, a popular stop for eastbound skiers after a day at Stevens Pass.

In 1999, toward the end of his competitive skiing career, Jack spent a day on the slopes at Alpental with a News Tribune reporter.

“It keeps me eternally young,” Jack said of his skiing lifestyle. “I’ve been told this lifestyle is not conducive to having relationships. It’s like the Peter Pan complex where you never grow up.”

He learned to ski when he was 6 and always appreciate the risk of his sport.

“I’m nervous every time a skier comes down,” Jack told The News Tribune. “I’ve seen severe head injuries and guys put in comas because of the skiing we do.”

He added: “I’m nervous before every run. But within a second I know I can do this. Your instincts come out. I’m more nervous watching others.”


Jim Jack recently starred in this viral video promoting Leavenworth, where both he and Rudolph lived.


Leave a comment Comments → 23
  1. JimKnutsen says:

    Jim Jack was a great kind-hearted man. I attended CWU with him back in 88-89 and would ski with him at Mission Ridge. One of the best technical skiers one could ever learn from. Many good memories from the few years we knew each other.

    He died doing the one thing that made him eternally happy… Forever up in Heaven on the mountain skiing with that big smile and grin from ear-to-ear.

    I wish that I would have stayed in touch. Life goes by and old contacts are lost.

    Your CWU pal from years past,

  2. serendipity says:

    This story lead me to start sobbing last night. I am a winter ski widow as I can no longer make it down the bunny slope. I begged my significant other to not go off cliffs, never ski off marked trails, etc. My heart just goes out the families of these men. :-(

  3. There’s a reason trails are marked ones that shouldn’t be skiied or hiked.

  4. Misunderestimated says:

    So sad for their families.

  5. BobbyOcean says:

    Let’s ignore people like tsd and Misunderestimated.

    They have no idea about a sport like skiing, in which backcountry skiing is considered the most pure — and one of the highest — levels of the sport. The people out there were professional skiers and industry vets, and I can guarantee these men were 100% aware of the risks they were taking because they were 100% aware of the rewards.

    Death is the risk. Living a beautiful life in the mountains with your friends doing one of the most fun things in the world is the reward.

    I can guarantee their families respect and honor that.

    You obviously can’t.

    That’s way more sad.

  6. Misunderestimated says:

    They risked their lives by choosing to ski in an area marked out of bounds, then chose to risk the lives of others when they activated their emergency beacons to bring rescuers into harms way after them.
    The very definition of the word.

  7. janemckane says:

    Misunderestimated, go troll someplace else. Preferrably the deep end of the pool.

  8. ReadNLearn says:

    Horribly sad.

  9. footballscaa says:

    Stay inbounds.

  10. JimKnutsen says:

    Too all commenters who show their ignorance. Please post factual statements that don’t degrade the character of these individuals. Your ignorance is apparent by the comments you make.

  11. JimKnutsen says:

    PS Stevens Pass Management also stated that at the time the men died, there was no avalanche danger. Weather can turn quickly.

    Too say that it was so predictable is to say that all people who die in a tornado should have known and left town…

  12. SouthHillCoug says:

    The problem, Mr. Knutsen, is that the outpouring of sympathy seems to be a clear double standard.

    If the victims had been three 19 year old students from Wenatchee Valley College, would we see the same vociferous defense of their right to take the risk? Or would we have seen a chorus of “experienced” mountaineers sadly shaking their heads and saying “It’s tragic, but they shouldn’t have been there if they didn’t know what they were doing”?

    Everyone knows the answer to that question. The same people jumping to defend sidecountry skiing now would have been subtly criticizing the victims. You see it every time some hiker wanders out onto Mt. Rainier wearing tennis shoes and windbreaker.

    It’s galling, especially for those of us who are ourselves avid outdoorsmen and who would never have put ourselves in that position to begin with. I hunt, hike, ski and bike – and it quite frankly makes me angry when I see the daredevils sneaking through the boundary lines.

    And for everyone saying now is not the time to have this discussion – when IS the time? This summer, when the memory of the very real dangers have faded? Or now, when the tragic results are so crystal clear?

  13. SouthHillCoug says:

    Additionally, yours is the first claim I’ve seen saying that they were inbounds. Every other report says that they were in sidecountry – an area across the out of bounds lines. They were on public land and were not breaking any laws, but they were NOT inbounds, from every report I’ve seen.

  14. Most large ski resorts have clearly signed back country access gates. No rules were broken here, the avalanche danger, as forecasted, was low. The victims were skilled backcountry skiers – to suggest they met their end due to idiocy is idiotic. Better to die in the manner they did than to wheeze yourself to death in an obese, diabetic state from a life free of any adventure whatsoever.

  15. SouthHillCoug says:

    Norsey – to the contrary, the avalanche forecast from the Northwest Avalanche Center was high above 5000 feet and considerable below. It was NOT low. You are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts.

    They WERE out of bounds. The forecast danger WAS high. These are facts.

  16. Craig Hill says:

    To clarify, Out of bounds does not mean closed area. These are areas open for skiing but not controlled by the ski area. They are perfectly legal to ski there and the preferred areas to ski for expert and experienced skiers. Yes there are risks.

    “Soundlife”: Please edit your handle to a name that is not the same as one of our publication’s branded names. I will have to erase all posts using names that are associated with sections or other content of The News Tribune and The Olympian to avoid potential confusion that you are associated with our publications. Thanks.

  17. SouthHillCoug says:

    Mr. Hill, I think I also explained out of bounds in the same manner as you did – I’m not sure why you needed to clarify, unless it was to add your opinion that out of bounds is “the preferred areas to ski for expert and experienced skiers.”

    This is simply NOT TRUE. I am an expert and experienced skier, as are most of the people I ski with. The vast majority of skiers never venture out of bounds. Somehow, we make do with the acres and acres of black and double black diamond runs found within the boundaries of the many ski areas in Washington, Idaho, Oregon and British Columbia.

    Out of bounds is the preferred area for thrill-seekers who think they are better than everyone else – they are edgier, they are tougher, they ski the dangerous stuff that no one else can.


    It’s not that no one else can; it’s that most DON’T because the vast majority of expert skiers think it’s a stupid, needless risk.

    I’m actually becoming pretty steamed at the industry response to this tragedy. The very people singing the praises of the intrepid backcountry pioneers are the exact same people who post avalanche warnings in the ski shop – they just don’t think those warnings apply to them.

  18. Craig Hill says:

    SouthHillCoug: You are absolutely right on a couple of points. 1. I should have clarified that clarification (which was clarifying the original post, not anything you said) with a “some” or “many.” I try hard to avoid blanket statements like that. 2. Most skiers do not go out of bounds, because most skiers are intermediate. Since you are expert skier you also know that some ski areas are brimming with advanced skiers who believe they are experts.

    If your handle is a reference to your alma mater, I assume you are well educated and cultured (As all Cougs are. There I go again with the blanket statements, but I figure we can both stand behind that one.)

    That said, your description of backcountry skiers could not be farther from the truth. Talk about blanket statements. Good backcountry skiers are well prepared. There is an inherent risk and they know that. You know there are people in the lodge that think you and I are crazy for skiing double diamonds.

    Also, many of these people cringe at the idea they are thrill seekers. There are people who ski in the backcountry at Rainier and other places simply because they don’t like the crowds or don’t want to (or can’t afford to) pay for lift tickets. Much of the terrain some of these backcountry skiers ski is less challenging than the stuff you probably warm up on at the ski area.

    There are many reasons to ski out of bounds. Their desire to ski backcountry terrain is just as valid as your desire to stay in the controlled confines of the ski areas.

    SouthSoundLife: Nice try, but I have to ask you to try again. South Sound is the name of our local section. Sound Life is the name of our Features Section. Sorry to be a stickler on this.

  19. SouthHillCoug says:

    Mr. Hill,

    Fair enough. I truly don’t want to be “that guy” when there are three people dead and countless mourning, but I also think that this tragedy has highlighted some very real concerns about the growing number of people heading out into the backcountry / sidecountry / out of bounds – whatever you call it. This incident has, for better or worse, brought attention to the matter, and now is the time to have a respectful discussion about whether the entire endeavor is being done appropriately. A few weeks or months from now, when the snow is melting and people start putting the skis away, no one will want to talk about it.

    As I said, I’m concerned about the industry response. I’ve heard interview after interview on the local radio shows, several with people who were there. No one – NO ONE – is daring to say “Hey, you shouldn’t have been there! It snowed a ton, the avalanche danger was high, the mistake in judgment was even being there at all on that particular day!”

    Instead, we hear the terms “unavoidable accident” coupled with testimonials about how experienced they were and how they did nothing wrong.

    They CLEARLY did something wrong. Not to be crass, but there is only one measuring stick in the wilderness: survival. If you don’t survive, you did something wrong. Res ipsa loquitur.

    And in the back of my mind, I can’t escape the niggling concern that this is being fueled, at least in part, by an industry that wants to sell its product. ESPN and Powder Magazine were there for a reason, even if they weren’t actually doing the photo shoot that day. How many times have you heard in the last few days about avalanche air bags? How many people do you think are now asking where they can get one? Or avalanche beacons?

    I’m concerned that teenage kids who are already fearless will simply think “Hey, if I spend $1,000 on gear, I’m good to go! Everyone is saying it isn’t against the law, so I’m there!”

    Skiing out of bounds is not against the law, we’re all hopefully clear on that. But SHOULD it be encouraged? Should ESPN and Powder Magazine be highlighting the practice? Should Warren Miller films glamorize the daredevil skier rushing down the mountain ahead of the avalanche? Is the industry response to this tragedy laying the groundwork for more deaths?

    I think it is, and that bothers me as much as the tragedy that happened last Sunday.

  20. Craig Hill says:

    All very good questions. And you are right, it is a great conversation to have. And I agree with some of your points. I would, however, disagree with your statement that survival is the only measuring stick. Stevens Pass is claiming the avalanche danger changed from the time they viewed the report to the time they hiked to their run. I think it’s safe to say that there were others who went out in the Cascades on Sunday who were less prepared and with less experience after the warning was posted and survived. Does that mean they didn’t do something wrong? I would argue that not only is simply surviving not a good measuring stick, but it’s a dangerous one. People do stupid things and go unprepared into the backcountry all the time and not only survive, but have an enjoyable time. This can reinforce their neglectful behavior and lead them to be more careless. I’ve also had to cover incidents where perfectly prepared people in perfect conditions fell to their death because they caught a crampon on their gaiter at the wrong time. That’s just plain bad luck. I argue there is no simple measuring stick. Each situation is different.
    As for you assertion that action sport media might be encouraging athletes to take risks beyond what they might otherwise consider safe, well, you just might be on to something there.

  21. SouthHillCoug says:

    Oh, no, I’m not saying that merely surviving is proof of GOOD habits. I refer to that as the “Luck / Skill” set and it’s liable to present itself in most dangerous activity. You do something wrong, you get lucky and survive, and you begin to mistake a lucky result for skill on your part. It’s a very deadly and, unfortunately, very common experience.

    I’m saying that failure to survive – death – is in itself proof that you made a mistake. Perhaps it’s not a 100% hard and fast rule, but I’ve found that it should be treated as such. Virtually all wilderness deaths, when you get down to it, result from a bad decision at some point. No one wants to believe that the victim played a role in his own death, so many if not most “accidents” are written of an an unavoidable act of nature. I think an objective analysis of Sunday’s events would reveal several turning points where a better decision would have avoided the entire tragedy.

    Surviving isn’t proof that you did something right, but dying IS proof that you did something wrong. Mother Nature is a harsh mistress.

  22. SouthHillCoug says:

    One last thing: I am NOT saying that I’ve never made a mistake, or that I don’t have sympathy for those who did make a mistake and ended up paying the ultimate price. Mistakes are easy to make. Fatigue, overconfidence, peer pressure, even stress from your day job can make it easy to sometimes overlook even the most obvious safety measures. Hopefully, thankfully, it isn’t usually fatal.

    People make mistakes, even experienced people. That’s why I’ve repeatedly used the word “tragedy.”

    It does the rest of the community a disservice, however, to let our love and admiration for the victims blind us to the mistakes they made. Sympathy and understanding should not render us blind to the lessons to be learned.

  23. Craig Hill says:

    Alright Mr. Coug, sounds like we are awfully close to being on the same page here. Sadly, I’ve had to cover many deaths like this and you are right, many times those who die leave behind a lesson others should learn. I knew one of the men who died Sunday and know that he was very cautious about his backcountry adventures. Did he make a mistake Sunday? Maybe. Did he do everything right with the info he had at the time and then get unlucky? Maybe. Either way there is a lesson to be learned. I just don’t believe that lesson is nobody should go out of bounds. I think it’s more along the lines of what we are talking about: Be prepared, know what you are doing, understand the hazards, don’t be afraid to turn back and even then there are no guarantees.

    Thanks for stirring up a good conversation here. (Go Cougs.)

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