Friends, family and coworkers of Duncan MacKenzie entered the foyer of the Whistler Conference Centre to a packed house Friday night.
Though the mood was sombre, friends embraced, shook hands and comforted each other. The night ahead would not be easy.
MacKenzie, a Whistler Blackcomb ski patroller was killed in an avalanche Dec.29 while backcountry skiing with three friends off the Duffey Lake Road.
When the doors to the auditorium finally swung open to the noble tune of Scottish pipes, the congregation filed in. Though there were several hundred chairs it was not nearly enough to seat the crowd. People stood at the back and sat cross-legged on the carpeted floor. His friends would later say that this turnout was fitting; Duncan touched so many over the years.
Jerome David spoke of MacKenzie's first mountaineering trip with the patrol crew — a trip that earned him the nickname "chips" after he lost his footing climbing a ridge and chipped his tooth. It stuck with him after another accidental knee-to-face collision while dropping a cliff skiing.
A representative from Squaw Valley Ski Patrol, where MacKenzie participated in a work exchange, testified to his genuine and caring nature. Squaw Valley Ski Patrol lost one of its own during his work exchange and members said they never forget how MacKenzie extended his stay in Squaw to help the team through such a difficult time.
Others recalled a running joke MacKenzie and his friends played on each other on backcountry trips. Someone would stow away a heavy block splitter in the bottom of a backpack then see how long it would take to get noticed.The block splitter would travel unbeknownst far into the backcountry, then once it was found it would be quietly stowed into another party member's pack, continuing the prank.
One of his partners on the avalanche control team recalled a day when he was caught in a slide and took comfort in such a dangerous situation at hearing MacKenzie's reassuring shouts of, "I've got you buddy, I've got you."
His girlfriend Kristi recalled their adventures when travelling together to India last year, the mountains they climbed and the cultures they experienced. MacKenzie could not believe that there were no ski publications on the magazine shelves in that country.
Letters from far away were read and photos of MacKenzie's adventures showed his ever-present smile.
As the memorial drew to a close everyone rose in a standing ovation, saluting a friend that left all too soon. They continued to swap stories into the evening, about a man whose smile lived on in their hearts.
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