In Memoriam: Blake Morstad - 1980 - 2005

BackpackingLight.com Staff Member dies in avalanche in Montana's Centennial Mountains.

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by Ryan Jordan | 2005-01-04 03:00:00-07

In Memoriam: Blake Morstad - 1980 - 2005

In Memoriam: Blake Morstad

“I’ll go first.”

Three words that ring mixed emotions when they come from your partner at the top of an untracked backcountry north face. Mixed, because you know that you’re not going to be the one cutting virgin powder down this beautiful line. Mixed, because you know they are the unselfish words of your partner, as part of the unspoken rules of backcountry skiing: big guys go first. If it slides, it will slide under his weight, not mine, and remaining at the top, I’d be in a better and safer position to facilitate a rescue.

Those were the words of Blake Morstad on a subzero morning at the top of the ridge in the northern Bridger Mountains of Montana. After carving perfect S-turns down the slope, Blake skied over to “hide” behind a rock band, protected in case the slope avalanched when I skied it. He peeked his head out, gave a thumbs up, and down I went, trying to complement his S’s into mountain art.

As I skied over to Blake, we looked up in awe at our masterpiece: nearly 1,600 feet of an infinity chain directly down the 39 degree fall line. We agreed that the most rewarding part of the run was not in our own turns, but in watching the other ski, dance, create.

The conversation turned to our shared faith in God as we continued to look back up. After some silence, broken only by the squawk of a raven demanding a bite of my donut, Blake closed the day with a simple and quiet, yet utterly profound, “Thank you."

That would be the only run of the day. After all, I had to get Blake back to MSU for his class by 11:00, and I had to teach a class. It wouldn't look good if we both showed up late.


On New Years Day 2005 (Saturday), Blake Morstad took his final turns along the Continental Divide in Hell Roaring Canyon of the Centennial Mountains in Montana.

Blake was backcountry skiing as part of a group of five experienced backcountry skiers. Two skiers had skied the 34 degree slope and were waiting in trees below when Blake’s first turns triggered a 2 ½ foot deep by 120 foot wide by 800 foot long slide, which caught both of the other skiers waiting in trees below, and injured one of them.

Cool heads and experience allowed the rest of the team to recover Blake from the debris at the toe of the avalanche within eight minutes, normally enough time for a buried victim to survive before suffocation occurs. However, Blake was found dead immediately, and died as a result of trauma during the slide.

Please be cautious about reading news media accounts of this accident. Early reports have been inaccurate and sensationalized. Reliable information can be found in Doug Chabot's accident analysis report here from the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center.

Rescue efforts then focused on treating the other victim, who had a severe compound fracture to his lower leg. After the injury was stabilized, two members of the party skied out to a cabin and called for help.

Rescue efforts were hampered by a severe storm that brought high winds and new snow to the area. The rescue was initiated Sunday morning, but rescue workers on foot, snowmobile, and helicopter were still unable to reach the party, who were located in a remote and mountainous region in the Northern Rockies. By Monday, more than thirty-five people were involved in the search, including two county SAR units, but it was not until a helicopter issued from Malmstrom Air Force base that the rescue could be completed. The pilot’s skill, perseverance, and courage to fly in what were incredibly difficult conditions warrant tremendous thanks. Exceptional behavior and effort on behalf of other members of the ski party and the SAR volunteers is also to be commended. Mountain temperatures and conditions had been on the wrong side of normal during the few days during and following the accident and survival of the remaining injured victim and the rest of the party is remarkable.


Blake Morstad left an indelible impression on every person he met. In the years that I knew Blake, he never had a critical word to say about anyone, appreciated every God-given circumstance that he was faced with, regardless of how good or bad it felt, and loved his wife, family, and friends with a passion and level of maturity that one does not see often from a 24 year old man.

Blake may have left this world a young man – certainly “too young” by most of our standards, but a clear fact remains: he left an honorable legacy of compassion, friendship, honesty, and integrity that wise men three times his age would have been proud of.

The last time I saw Blake, we prayed together. I asked God to use Blake for a higher purpose as a husband and father. I have no doubts that God is answering those prayers, even in the face of tragedy.

Blake Morstad’s wife, Adele “Addie” Morstad, gave birth to their son, Blake Samuel, on February 5, 2005. Please keep them in your prayers.

We will miss you, Blake. But you ‘done good’ – and lived a rich and full life as a model for the rest of us. And for that, we thank you.

Rest easy, friend.

Blake Walden Morstad was born May 21, 1980. Blake enjoyed the outdoors, and especially, backcountry skiing and rock climbing. The photo above is Blake at the summit of Montana's highest mountain, Granite Peak (12,799'). Blake grew up in Calgary, Alberta and Plentywood, Montana, and attended Montana State University-Bozeman, where he earned a master's degree in mechanical engineering studying snow facet recrystallization - the same phenomena that eventually took his life in an avalanche in Montana's Centennial Mountains on January 1, 2005. Blake was married to Adele Myers in December of 2002, and they are expecting their first child in February 2005. Blake was a devout Christian and this was reflected in his primary passions: knowing God and loving his wife, Addie. Funeral services will be held Saturday, January 8, 10:30 am at Faith Chapel, 517 Shiloh Road, Billings Montana. A memorial account for baby Blake has been set up at Merrill Lynch through Craig Anderson at 550 North 31st Street, Billings, MT 59101.

Endowment Information

The intent of the Blake Morstad Memorial Endowment in Engineering at Montana State University is to provide scholarships, in perpetuity, to outstanding engineering students who reflect the spirit of Blake's exemplary character as well as his sound engineering approach to understanding avalanche phenomena.

  • Administration of the Endowment is managed by the Montana State University Foundation.
  • Endowment liaisons: Adele Morstad and Ryan & Stephanie Jordan.
  • Special thanks to Ed Adams and Linda Wyckoff at MSU for facilitating endowment logistics.

Information about individual scholarships and recipients will be maintained on this page.

How to Contribute

You may contribute to the Endowment by going directly to the MSU Foundation's online giving page.  Click the link to donate directly to the Blake W. Morstad Memorial Scholarship at Montana State University.  Please designate your gift to the College of Engineering and make your donation “In memory of Blake Morstad.”

100% of the funds you contribute will be issued directly to the Montana State University Foundation for the Endowment.

TAX INFO: Your contribution is tax deductible and should be recorded in your tax records as a gift to the "Montana State University Foundation - Blake Morstad Memorial Endowment in Engineering". The MSU Foundation will issue a receipt to substantiate your charitable contribution to Montana State University.

Please leave comments and goodbyes for Blake's wife and family below.


Citation

"In Memoriam: Blake Morstad - 1980 - 2005," by Ryan Jordan. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/blake_morstad_memorial.html, 2005-01-04 03:00:00-07.

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In Memoriam: Blake Morstad
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Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
In Memoriam: Blake Morstad on 01/04/2005 12:04:35 MST Print View

BackpackingLight.com Staff Member (Navigation Systems Editor) Blake Morstad was killed in an avalanche New Years Day in Montana's Centennial Mountains. Please use this forum as a memorial to Blake's life, we will be sending comments to his wife and family.

A link to a short memorial is here:

Blake Morstad Memorial

Also: Blake Morstad Bio

This has been a tremendously sad tragedy, please keep Blake's family in your prayers.

Ryan Jordan

Edited by ryan on 01/04/2005 12:06:14 MST.

James Augustine
(chirodr) - F

Locale: Southern California
I have no words.... on 01/04/2005 16:00:36 MST Print View

I can't begin to understand what close friends and family must be going through...my heart goes out to you all. My prayers and thoughts are with all of you. May God comfort you, take care of you and heal the pain and loss.

Prayers,

Jim Augustine

John S.
(jshann) - F
May he rest in peace. on 01/04/2005 18:53:31 MST Print View

My sincere condolences to the BPL staff and families in the loss of Blake Morstad.

Charles Maguire
(hikelite) - F

Locale: Virginia
Sorrowful loss on 01/04/2005 19:32:25 MST Print View

Words can't do justice to console the pain and sorrow his family and friends must feel.

Blake, by Ryan's account, was surely a Godly man. I do believe all that happens, both good and bad, is part of God's plan. We may not understand why, but we can be assured of Blake's salvation by the way he lived his life and his faith.

I would like to give my deepest sympathy to his family and friends.

My prayers will be for them.
Chuck

Will Rietveld
(WilliWabbit) - MLife

Locale: Southwest Colorado
Keep Hanging With Us Blake... on 01/04/2005 23:19:51 MST Print View

Hey Blake, I know we never actually met, but I feel like I know you since we worked together. We're both hooked on mountains, and reviewing gear, and learning why things work, or not work. I can't believe you really left us. You gotta still be hanging around the BPL site to check out what's new. Could you give us some kind of sign to let us know you are still hanging out with us, to let us know you're still around, so we don't forget you? I'm sure you will think of something. We will be watching for your sign.
Your friend, Will.

Erin Morstad
(emorstad) - F
My Little Brother on 01/05/2005 00:18:40 MST Print View

Of course, I say "little brother" jokingly. We all know that Blake towered over me, Erin, and our other sister, Rachel. He was truly a gentle giant. Thank you, Ryan, for your beautiful, thoughtful story. Your words made me laugh and cry, but most of all, your story allowed me to remember Blake and that awesome feeling that you get from ripping turns and carving big lines.

Peace.

Jay Ham
(jham) - F - M

Locale: Southwest
Too few Blakes in the world as it is on 01/05/2005 06:40:34 MST Print View

Thanks for your article, Ryan. I only worked with Blake on one article and really didn't get to know him. I wish I had. There are too few with his character in this world, particularly at his age. This tragedy has touched my wife and I very much. Our prayers go out to his wife and family.
Jay


(Anonymous)
May your spirit live on on 01/05/2005 09:17:33 MST Print View

I never met Blake, but from the stories I've heard he was an incredible person and mountaineer. May his pure spirit live on in all of us.

Carol Crooker
(cmcrooker) - MLife

Locale: Desert Southwest, USA
His work lives on on 01/05/2005 09:59:33 MST Print View

Hi Addie, Erin, Rachel (and all Blake's family),
I never met Blake in person, just worked with him through the magic of the internet. His work at Backpacking Light lives on. This morning I was a little emotional as I did some final editing on a stove review Blake wrote. I feel like I'm still getting to know him through his writing, as our readers will too. I trust that somehow his passing fits into the order of things even if I can't understand it. My prayers are with all of you.

Cheryl Cummings
(cummic) - F
To Adele (Addie) and Family on 01/05/2005 11:46:53 MST Print View

We are so saddened to learn of your loss. Words, as you know, cannot express how much are hearts ache for you and how vividly you ALL will be in our prayers. Unfortunately we did not know Blake personally....he must be a wonderful man...to have chosen you as his soulmate and given you his child. We are praying for you now and for your future. Always,........... Cheryl, Bruce, and Erica Cummings

Laura Germann
(LGermann) - F
Blake on 01/05/2005 13:39:48 MST Print View

I am very saddened at the news. Blake was a student of mine. I appreciated him greatly. He will be missed, but not forgotten. My prayers go out to his family. We are all better people for having known him.
Laura

mary shackelford
(ellen48) - F
Blake Morstad on 01/05/2005 15:49:11 MST Print View

Blake was someone who we saw play baseball and basketball in Plentywood and showed steers at the Sheridan County Fair. To his wife and family and friends our very deepest sympathy and prayers for your loss of Blake on earth. I've read thru the editoral and memorial of Blake - he was someone who made a difference. mary, wes, mark, richard shackelford

Sara Hewitt
(shewitt) - F
He will be Missed on 01/05/2005 19:32:20 MST Print View

I just got the horrible news about Blake. I don't live in Bozeman anymore, but I have some friends who keep me in touch. Addie, Margie, Steve, Rachel, Joe and Erin I am SO Sorry for your loss. Blake was a wonderful man, and I am very blessed that I was able to know him. He always made me laugh. To this day I still get a smile on my face when I go through a car wash, which he wasn't that comfortable in. He always amazed me with his brilliance and his love of life. I will always have fond memories of him. I am absolutely in shock and all my thoughts and prayers go out to you all. God Bless you. Please feel free to contact me, sh_momma@hotmail.com if there is anything I can do for you in Calgary. Addie my heart goes out to and your beautiful baby I am so sorry for your loss. Sara Hewitt

Edited by shewitt on 01/05/2005 19:34:42 MST.

Mark Corner
(Beca) - F
Blake on 01/05/2005 21:38:06 MST Print View

Blake - You were the friend who passed me with a wave and smile on many a backcountry trail, the student whose papers I used to check the key. Your energy and enthusiasm for life were contagious, and your memory instills a desire to push on to experience new adventures, learn about new horizons and appreciate all the people and wonders around me. I'll catch you again sometime, if I'm lucky enough.
Robb

Keri VanCampen
(Keri) - F
So young on 01/05/2005 23:34:15 MST Print View

I went to high school with Blake in Plentywood. He truly was one of the nicest guys I've ever met. Blake always took things in stride and rarely wansn't wearing a smile.

This tragic event really tugs at the heart strings and I so wish there was something all of us could do to ease the heartache of all Blake's family and friends. I hope tho that knowing how many lives Blake has touched and how many people have been affected not only by his passing, but also his life will somehow ease some of the pain.

To Blake's family, you are all in the thoughts, hearts and prayers of so many. Blake will forever live on in all of our hearts, memories, and in that precious little baby growing inside Addie. I know Blake and his little baby are up in Heaven right now getting to know eachother while we all await his/her arrival. That little one will always know his/her daddy and what a kind, gentle, wonderful person he was. They will always have a special bond and thru that you will not only be blessed with a new life, but also a connection to Blake.

You are all in my prayers, and my heart goes out to you.
Keri (Maier) VanCampen

Anthony Allyjan
(pallyjan) - F
Condolences on 01/06/2005 10:24:00 MST Print View

I only met Blake briefly, but was honoured to meet such a caring soul. There are no words that can express the depth of your loss, or that can ease the pain of his passing. My prayers and thought go out to his loving family.

God bless

Paul Allyjan

Kolby Carrier
(kolby) - F
Blake will be missed on 01/06/2005 10:33:18 MST Print View

I graduated with Blake from Plentywood High School. He will be remembered by his warm, friendly smile and helpful personality. My thoughts and prayers are with Steve, Patsy, Addie, and all of Blake's family. God is with you as we know he is with Blake. Take Care, Kolby (Sorenson) Carrier


(Anonymous)
God Bless on 01/06/2005 10:39:14 MST Print View

I was so sorry to hear of Blake's passing. May God give your family strength through this difficult time. His memory will last forever in your hearts.

Colette Rees
(ColetteRees) - F
My Thoughts and Prayers on 01/06/2005 11:13:08 MST Print View

Hi Marjie, Rachel, and Erin,
It's been a long time since I've seen you all but I think of you often as I've been feeling nestalgic lately. Dad gave me an old photo album not long ago and there are lots of pictures of all of us together. For me Blake will always remain the sweet little boy with a big smile and golden hair. I wish I'd known him as an adult; please send his wife my prayers and let her know that my family will make a donation to the trust fund for their new baby. All my love and prayers are with you. Colette

Don Wilson
(don) - MLife

Locale: Koyukuk River, Alaska
Kindred soul on 01/06/2005 12:07:40 MST Print View

As another BPL staffer, I never met Blake in person. But I am certain he was a kindred spirit; dedicated to his young family and reveling in the joy of the outdoors. Addie, as I have seen you say in messages to others, do everything you can to pass Blake's spirit to your child. You are in the thoughts of my family.
Best, Don