For those visitors who may not understand the significance of these bumper stickers, the numbers correspond to the ski patrol badge numbers of fallen patrollers James Juarez, Scott McAndrews and Walter Rosenthal.
By Austin Staunch
Every April 6, we all naturally remember three very special men from ski patrol that lost their lives on China Bowl, while tirelessly working to make the mountain safe for everyone. I’ll never forget Walter, James and Scott or the events that transpired on that bluebird day in 2006.
Along with them, I also think of another patroller, Johanna, whose death in a backcountry avalanche just two months earlier had us reeling already, as well as the many customers who lost their lives that season. That was one hell of a year.
But today, I don’t wish to write about tragedy. Something else happened during that time that was uplifting and forever defined for me the true meaning of community.
Years later it is still what always makes me feel like I’ve come home every time I turn off U.S. 395 and drive up to Main and Old Mammoth. It was the way the community of Mammoth Lakes stepped up like I had never seen before.
The entire town grieved with us and extended their warm support. Ski patrol received countless cards and letters. At the patrol rooms in Main and Canyon Lodges, people brought by everything from cookies to beer, which we enjoyed together after work.
Personally, I was touched that people checked in on me, had me over for dinners and let me know that they were available in support. Whether I was grabbing a bite in the cafeteria or hanging out at a local watering hole, friends, acquaintances, and even strangers were really good to me. The Mammoth Mountain staff and those in charge made it clear that they would support us in any way we needed.
The memorial service packed Main Lodge with more support and love. The entire building was filled. Scores of former patrollers attended and the ski patrols of other mountains sent some of their own patrollers to join us in honoring these men.
Since I was giving one of the eulogies, I wasn’t sure how I’d get through the night, but I felt so supported and appreciated afterward, I felt fantastic. It turned into a lovely evening rather than a difficult one.
Two days after the memorial service, the largest ever in-bounds post-control avalanche happened on Climax. Once again, the mountain and community stepped up. Practically the entire staff came out to help us probe for potentially buried victims.
The resort’s top executives probed next to lift operators. People drove up from town to help. Local ski shops, such as Kittredge, took their own stock of shovels and probes off of their shelves and brought them out for everyone to use.
Looking down from the top of Climax was awe inspiring. There were hundreds of people forming probe lines in multiple rows, lined up like soldiers in battle. It made me very proud. We combed the area well into the evening and food and drinks were sent out to us; more were offered at McCoy Station when we were finished.
It is this kind of support and love that makes the Mammoth community so unique. I feel that one’s true character is displayed in times of crisis.
How one handles stress, how one comports themselves in the hard times, and how they make themselves available to others, tells you who they really are. The community of Mammoth taught me in 2006 that there is nothing we can’t get through and nothing we won’t help each other through.
Think of the contributions of Walter, James, Scott and Johanna today.
And while you’re at it, also give some credit to yourselves, Mammoth … you make up part of something truly special: the backbone of a very beautiful community.
Austin Staunch is a former Mammoth Mountain ski patroller who currently lives in the Bay Area.