Brendan approaching the summit of Lyskamm before his first snowboard descent of the Beneditti line. © Ben Briggs
On the 23th of January 2015 Brendan was killed in a snowboarding accident on the Tour Ronde. Nothing I can write about Brendan will ever do him justice, he was a special person, liked by everyone who had the pleasure of meeting him and loved by so many.
I struggle to think of a single time that I spent with Brendan when he didn’t have a smile on his face, being with him made me a better person. His positive attitude and kindness were infectious. He didn’t sweat the small things or let anything get him down, he had made his perfect life for himself with his girlfriend Maureen and this shone through in is permanent happiness.
Snowboarding was just one aspect of Brendan’s life, he was an adventurer at heart, never working more than he had to, to do the things he loved, enjoying nature, running, hiking, climbing, traveling and exploring new places. He was social and everyone enjoyed his company there was always a great story to be told and laughs to be had.
That morning, like every one after a fresh fall of snow we headed up to the mountains to enjoy their good times. There was no real objective and seeing the North face of the Tour Ronde looked good, Brendan, Mikko Heimonnen, Jesper Petersson, Luca Zattoni and I decided that was where we wanted to go.
It was one of the first real steep slopes me and Brendan skied together back in 2009. Since that time Brendan had gone on to make some incredible descents all over the world. I have never skied with a more competent or accomplished partner. He was skilled, cautious and humble, I always felt safe in the mountains with him. Despite this he was relatively unknown within the ski world, probably due to the fact he didn’t care for publicity or if any one knew about a beautiful first descent he had made. He never courted attention or sponsorship, just going to the mountains for himself, because he loved it.
We climbed the normal route of the mountain, it was peaceful, it was beautiful and we were happy. We started to descend, it was knee-deep powder but you could still feel the hard ice lurking below the cold light snow. By chance Brendan was the last to set off and we all stood watching as he came down towards us.
He descended to the skiers right of our tracks but the snow cover there was thinner. It wasn’t bonded to the ice beneath. As the snow sloughed away he found himself left on nothing but ice and started to slide. He did not fall, just slid on his toe edge trying to gain some purchase until he disappeared over the cliff, and then reappeared 300m below.
I phoned the PGHM and Brendan was taken off in the helicopter before we could get down to him. I deluded myself he was OK and we had to get off the mountain to see him in the hospital.
He was dead by the time he came to rest at the bottom.
The PGHM do an extremely difficult job, they were fantastic in such a hard time and their help was invaluable. I would also like to thank all of the people to came together to help Maureen, Brendan’s family and I after, I don’t know what we would have done without you.
Skiing or snowboarding big mountains is inherently dangerous, as safe as we try to be we can not totally negate the risks. We all know that but you never really think these things will happen to you. The mountain can be cruel sometimes and it seems unfair, why Brendan? Why do the best, nicest, least deserving people die? It’s not the first time and I’m sure it won’t be the last. It seems right to question what we do at a time like this, but I don’t really have any answers. Participating in ‘extreme’ sports is a selfish endeavour, we accept the risks and take the enjoyment but its others who suffer if something goes wrong. However everything has a level of risk involved, where do you draw the line of what is an acceptable risk to take? To go through life with no risk at all would be a turgid existence. Everyone makes their own personal choices, I don’t think I could live a life where I didn’t go into the mountains, but now with a perspective that has been changed forever.
Too many friends, skilled, knowledgable people, have been lost to the mountains recently, I don’t know how we can change things to stop that happening but I want to, it shouldn’t just be accepted as part of the game.
It is tragic that Brendan died at such a young age, he should have had many more good years. However he made the most of every single day and in his short time lived more than most do in their full lifetime, that is not tragic and made him the amazing, kind, happy person he was. I will always remember him and the amazing times we spent together, as I’m sure many others will. Brendan will never be forgotten and he will live on in our hearts and minds.
“What I do know is that a life without seeing magic is not a life well lived. Mountains are just one tool in this quest, but it’s the one I know and the one I breath. It’s not about going out in to the mountains because they are worth dying for. I don’t think there are many things that are worth dying for, but I still need to go out in to the mountains because they give me something to LIVE for.” Andreas Fransson.
I have put together a short video from our ascent of the Tour Ronde that day, these were our last moments together, as peaceful and joyful as every time we shared on the mountain together.