Friends, family, fellow skiers and mountaineers were still in shock this week over the death of Trevor Petersen, one of Whistler’s true mountain sons, killed in an avalanche in Chamonix.
Expressions of sympathy poured in from around the world as news that the 34-year-old skier, husband and father of two would not be coming home.
Petersen was swept away in an avalanche on Chamonix’s famed Aiguille Midi on Feb. 26. It was the last run on the last day of a three-week skiing and photo shoot in the Alps. No one else had wanted to go up for one final run on the huge glacial expanse.
"When you’re by yourself you’re the only judge," says Peter Mattsson, Petersen’s partner in No Wimp Tours.
Petersen’s body was found two days later amidst avalanche debris.
Chamonix, with its Gothic rock spires and the overwhelming presence of Mont Blanc, has attracted climbers, skiers and mountaineers for centuries. It also claims about 50 lives a year.
Petersen had been there many times, had many friends there, and loved the area. Despite his reputation as an extreme skier — a term Mattsson says Petersen grew to hate — he was known and respected for his calculated approach to skiing steeps.
"He never went over his head; he always calculated the risks carefully," says Mattsson. "But with Mother Nature, you can never know for sure."
Mattsson met Petersen and Eric Pehota at Apex in 1984 and convinced them both to move back to Whistler. They started ski touring together and did literally hundreds of trips and traverses through the Coast Mountain Range, as well as pioneering descents of peeks such as Decker, Tremor, Wedge, Mount Currie and Mount Waddington.
"He saw the whole trip, the camping, sitting around the fire talking, the whole experience. He talked about the full moon and the raven, how it represented the native spirit.
"The carrot (on a trip) was always to climb an ice fall or make a steep descent, but that was only one part of the whole experience," says Mattsson.
"He was a pure B.C. boy. He loved the wilderness, the wilds, mother nature."
Petersen grew up in North Vancouver. Mattsson credits him with being one of the people who moved downhill skiing out of the ski areas and into the backcountry. Petersen, Pehota and Mattsson were the first to really open up the backcountry in the Whistler area.
As they gained experience their reputations grew. Petersen and Pehota did several ski movies with Rap Films. They acquired equipment and clothing sponsorships and did numerous photo shoots, usually for the lens of local photographer Paul Morrison. Petersen became, at least among those truly interested in the mountains, an ambassador for Whistler.
"I was in a bar in Andorra last fall and up on the screen was Trevor," says Mattsson.
"I went into a magazine store in Sweden and there were five ski magazines; Trevor was on the cover of three of them.
"Posing was his job. He supported Tanya and the kids that way, but he would have been doing the same things even if he wasn’t sponsored or getting paid for it."
That love of the mountains was what spurred Petersen and Mattsson to start No Wimp Tours a couple of years ago. A lot of their clients have been 18-20 year olds, people who knew Petersen through his movies and photos and saw him as a role model.
Despite his increasing profile Petersen never went in contests; "He was just out there doing it for himself," Mattsson says.
"You can read all about it but once you get out there mileage is what counts. Trevor had a lot of mileage."
When he wasn’t skiing or touring he was often on his boogie board, surfing at Long Beach or in the rapids of the Cheakamus River. He was also a great skateboarder.
"You could see him, Tanya, the whole family coming down the hill on skateboards to get groceries," Mattsson says with a chuckle, before his eyes wander off again.
"You don’t realize what a person is until they’re gone.
"The guy had a helluva spirit. He had a good heart. People have been phoning from all over the world.
"He had really a big heart. I don’t think he had any enemies anywhere. He was so easy to get along with.
"He loved living — the hard part was to keep him home. He could live in the bush."
Mattsson says Whistler has been very supportive.
"The most important part of the community is the people coming together," he says.
The Trevor Petersen Memorial Fund has been set up at the Royal Bank to assist Petersen’s wife Tanya Reck, their son Kye and daughter Névé. A memorial service is being held at 4 p.m. Friday, March 8 by House Rock on the Cheakamus River. A ceremony will be held at the Chateau Whistler Golf Club March 9 at 7 p.m.
While condolences are coming in from as far away as South Africa and Norway, Mattsson says the freedom Petersen found in the mountains should not be forgotten.
"He loved to do what he did up to the bitter end."