Editor’s Corner: Honoring Our Fallen Guides, 2014

By Betsy Winter, AMGA Executive Director

In an effort to honor the lives of our fallen guides, we will be including personal stories by the friends and colleagues of these fallen guides on the blog and in the GUIDE Bulletin. 2014 was a particularly difficult one for the guiding world; we lost six people—Eitan Shalom Green, Matthew Hegeman, Cole Kennedy, Kyle Mattingly, Jake Merrill, and Liz Daley. Since our community is so small, the impact was huge. Everyone reading this knows one or more of these men and women.

  • Liz, a force of nature, shared with us her perpetual smile and effortless grace on a snowboard, even in the steepest, most technical terrain;
  • Matt, intense and philosophical, was an amazing teacher and extra careful guide who gently encouraged us to keep moving forward;
  • Eitan, fearless and quick to grin, sported a 3rd degree black belt, bossa nova drumming skills, and an enthusiasm to share his love of the mountains with everyone;
  • Cole, spirited and driven to pursue his dreams, also encouraged each of us to pursue our own dreams and always pushed us to try harder;
  • Jake, with his great sense of humor and down to earth nature, worked tirelessly to further develop his outdoor leadership skills;
  • And Kyle, with his big goofy grin, shock of red hair, and perpetual stoke, loved skiing big lines or climbing long routes as much as he enjoyed sharing his passion for the mountains with his clients.

This is not an easy field to work in; there are inherent risks in what guides do. If you climb long enough, the death of people you love is guaranteed. Knowing this does not ease the pain or dampen the shock when you get that phone call. It’s our worst nightmare to hear those words about a good friend, peer, or client dying in an avalanche, from rock fall, or from any of the hazards you regularly face. I can’t imagine how hard it must be for you to put your boots back on and head into the mountains so soon after you hear about these great losses. But you do because you are strong and courageous. I’m humbled by how the guiding community rallies when things like this happen. You support each other… through the development of scholarships and memorial funds, by communicating regularly with loved ones, and by keeping tabs on each other. Despite the deaths, the sadness, and the pain of loss, you keep this dynamic profession alive.

The list of deaths grows longer every year I am with the AMGA. But so do the numbers of fully certified American Mountain Guides, the numbers of fulfilled clients, the numbers of supporters in the outdoor industry, and the numbers of land managers who understand the positive impacts of guiding on our public lands. Guiding is a profession as respected and grounded in education and the acquisition of skills as the fields of law or medicine. But unlike people in these other professions, guides work in the most beautiful wilderness areas in the world and with the healthiest, strongest, and most mountain savvy athletes.

With the deaths of our fallen comrades, we have the opportunity to reflect on what is truly important—love, friendship, community, and living every day to the fullest. That is what these guides shared with their peers, and this is what they taught their clients. As Alex Lowe once said, “The best climber in the world is the one having the most fun.” Likewise, the best guide in the world is the one sharing the most fun with others. Each of these guides shared big; each of these guides loved big. Let us celebrate their positive impact on the community.