After An Avalanche and Gnarly Injury, Strong Thoughts on Risk

The true, sad fact is that you don’t fully appreciate something until it’s been taken away. But then, if it’s returned to you, your blessings are reaped tenfold, for now you know how it is to live without that one thing, but you don’t have to. Roger Strong was caught in an avalanche on Snoqualmie Pass, hit a tree, and had the tibias of both legs torn from their femurs. It was a heinous, horrible accident, but 365 days later, with uncountable rehab hours and much introspection, he returned, on skis, to Snoqualmie.

My friend Fitz Cahall tells stories about the outdoor life and in this film he tells Roger’s. This is what he wrote when he sent me the video:

I’ve looked up to Roger Strong both as a parent and a climber/skier. He truly embodies the statement “the best climber/skier is the one who is having the most fun.” He also used to do it on a world-class level until he was caught in an avalanche and had both knees completely destroyed. He was lucky not to lose a leg. He is also a total character — he was one of the captains on the Deadliest Catch.

Aside from the fact that Roj was a friend, the story just got more personal as I went through the process. I was supposed to go out with him that morning. King County SAR brought us in to help them get to the accident site. I watched his daughter so that he and his wife could enjoy his first tentative day back on the hill together. And then it started to get even more personal this summer, when I was climbing with Mikey Schafer, broke a hold in a no-fall territory and took a 60-foot fall. The fall nearly severed the rope in three places. I broke several bones in my foot, ended up with badly bruised organs from the force and crawled nine hours to spend the next three months thinking about my choices and deciding whether climbing was something I wanted to continue to do. In a way, this story became my own. A statement about risk, parenting and the mountains. I hope you enjoy.

I’ve suffered a ski injury nearly as severe as Roger’s, I have children, and I’ve lost friends in avalanches. Some people decide not to ski again after getting hurt, or they give up climbing, or they hang up the bike, but I can’t actually think of anyone I know who’s done that. Rather, pain and loss become opportunities to consider what’s really important, and what’s usually really important is that we are our most true selves when we’re outside, and that we get back out there. Fitz knows this, and Roger shows us this in really powerful ways.

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