In Memoriam: Scott Sederstrom

Remembering Scott Sederstrom, a great skier, climber, and person

Scott Sederstrom ahead of his time in Whitefish, Montana. PHOTO: Bill Sallaz
Scott Sederstrom ahead of his time in Whitefish, Montana. PHOTO: Bill Sallaz

If you read POWDER 25 years ago, you probably remember this photo from the October ’90 issue. A skier tucked up tight, hanging in the air in perfect control, clearly carrying speed and just sending it into the void beyond the frame. There’s a lot of good shots in that issue, but back in the day that image stood out from the rest like it was color and everything else was black and white. It became one of the four or five elite photos that POWDER would offer for many years in poster form—the magazine’s archetypal huck of that era.

The skier in that image was named Scott Sederstrom, and he passed away this spring at the age of 44 in a climbing accident near his home at the foot of California’s Eastern Sierra. It’s a devastating loss not just for his family and fiancé, Suzanne, but for the entire local ski community here.

As much as anyone in that small group, Scott was always On It, the trustiest of partners for anyone and everyone. Despite the parade of knee surgeries that prematurely ended his career as the raddest skier in Whitefish, Montana, Scott evolved into a hedonistic peak-skiing (and snowboarding) animal, a happy master of the true art of skiing in the mountains, of being in the right place at the right time and squeezing every bit of joy out of it.

I skied with Scott for more than 20 years. He was my housemate for a couple of seasons in the decrepit but powder-adjacent apartment where I still live. I didn’t even find out that he was the guy in That Photo until 2005. We had met in the spring of ’95 when I was visiting Nate Wallace in Mammoth for peak-skiing season. Nate and I randomly connected at the trailhead with Sederstrom, and young backcountry heavy-hitters Mark Shelp, Martin Kuhn, and Matt Schott to ski Carson Peak, a casual but classic descent in nearby June Lakes. With the possible exception of Wallace, who’s had some exposure through his guide/safety coordinator work for Seth Morrison in Chamonix, you’ve probably never heard of any of them. Which is exactly how they like it, but that group—Scott’s Mammoth crew—would prove to be notably prolific in the Sierra and French Alps for the next two decades.

On multiple occasions I’ve laughed to hear people claiming first descents of big Sierra lines that those guys skied/snowboarded/telemarked in the 90’s, quite possibly in shorts, or on mushrooms, or both. Scott would laugh too, but he certainly wouldn’t care about correcting the record. He’d been there for the day, not the scoreboard.

Sederstrom had been there for the day, not the scoreboard.

Sederstrom always defined for the rest of us what it meant to be an East Side skier, and what made that different from the people that gravitated to other ski towns and ranges. Sponsorships, competitiveness, trying to be Rad… not really on the agenda here. For Scott, who had already been The Man in in his hometown of Whitefish, had already had his poster-boy period and seen what that was worth. The point of skiing, rather, was pure pleasure, personal indulgence in the joys of sliding down big mountains, and sharing it with his friends and huge powder-crushing husky, Yogi. The days that I had with him and Yogi, skinning from the house and skiing deep powder in the Mammoth front-country were magic, just laughing and goofing and killing it lap after lap, day after day. I’d be on ski trips for the magazine, getting seriously hooked up in top-shelf destinations… and secretly wishing I was at home, skinning pow laps with Sede and the dog.

More than anything else he was a prolific partner, and the best one around, ready for big days and small, glorious summits and weird bushwhacking grovels up some scrappy canyon. Scott was so active with so many people that having spent time in the mountains with him is probably the best possible definition of a member of the loose and low-key Eastern Sierra backcountry skiing or climbing “communities.”

So much of ski media has become saturated with people trying to Be Someone and Do Something. Among so much else, Scott showed me that the real joyful spirit of skiing is way beyond the hero-making that has come to define the public face of the sport, beyond the trophy-case mentality of so many backcountry skiers and climbers.

His feats of strength and stamina in mountains were amazing, his list of accomplishments endless, but the only thing he ever cared about was if it was fun and everyone was having a good time. Despite all the hard-man rock climbing and skiing he had done, the solo winter peak ascents, the ultra-length trail runs, the trips to Chamonix, I never once heard him talk about his accomplishments. He carried himself like he was just a bumbly middle-aged recreationalist, a surgical nurse who enjoyed some outside time on his days off, and would never identify as the master of alpine sports that he undeniably was. He was always making the ridiculous sound of a donkey braying to remind us that we were just a bunch of asses fooling around in the mountains.

For most skiers, getting a full-page going-huge shot in POWDER, being on that poster, would mark some kind of high point in their career. Scott never graced the pages of the magazine again, but his ski career hadn’t even begun.