by Ryan Jordan | 2005-01-04 03:00:00-07
“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.|
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.
Information about individual scholarships and recipients will be maintained on this page.
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.
"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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(firstname.lastname@example.org) - F
|My sympathy on 01/19/2005 09:16:36 MST|
My mom sent your story to me since i used to live in Bozeman. My heart goes out to all who knew and loved Blake. But my heart does rejoice knowing I will one day get the pleasure of meeting such a remarkable man. His life, thru the articles, has inspired me to live a more godly life and to never take my husband or family or life for granted. you will be in our prayers. love in Christ, Tiffani
(Addie) - F
|I miss you, baby. on 01/24/2005 11:23:33 MST|
I miss my husband. Though our time together was too short, it was so sweet, and I'm so grateful for how happy we were.
(hilben) - F
|To Addie and Family on 01/27/2005 14:31:17 MST|
I have held off on writing anything as I wanted to get to know Blake more through others before doing so. My knowledge of Blake is primarily through Addie and the comments left for him. My heart is with Addie, the soon-to-be baby, and all of Blake's family that have tragically lost his physical presence in their daily lives. Through the beautiful words that remember Blake and his love of God I can only believe that although he is physically no longer with us, his presence indeed remains. The powerful memorial article and the comments left by so many loved ones allows Blake to live on in memories and God is allowing Blake to watch over those Blake loved so much while in Heaven. God Bless Blake's family and friends and may you continue to experience the joy, love, adventure, and warmth that Blake would have surely wanted if he were still with us.