When I was visiting Silverton last season to ski with guys at the heart of the ski area’s snow safety program, I told John Clauson that I was working on a piece for POWDER that would make him famous. “No thanks,” he said, “I’d rather be the unknown soldier.” The last thing he wanted was to be some cool guy posing for the camera. He was probably thinking about getting home to his wife and son.
A couple of hours later, while skiing with Snow Safety Director Doug Krause and photographer Scott Smith, I blew my knee way out on the Billboard face, a long belly-crawl from the road. I groveled down a couple of hundred yards of avalanche debris and it became obvious that with daylight fading, a storm moving in, and snow windloading above us, that this was turning into A Bad Scenario.
Krause radioed Clauson who was still up at the top shack. He grabbed a patrol toboggan and proceeded to traverse it across the entire face, which would be a scary pain in the ass for two strong skiers. Smith took the photo above right when John showed up—how many people would be grinning at the prospect of a high-angle rescue in a storm at sundown?
Clauson, Krause, and Smith busted me out of there like it was a drill, but the extrication was serious—hip belaying a huge awkward load over cliffs with creepy exposure and no time to set up a real anchor. Had the unknown soldier not shown up things would have been much, much worse.
Soon after that, Clauson was diagnosed with leukemia. He has health insurance, but he and his family have had to travel to Denver for aggressive chemotherapy, and he still faces more treatment and a bone marrow transplant. With no paycheck and everyday bills coming in, a few bucks will do a lot of good. Like I said, it’s a chance for the rest of us to help out someone who does nothing but help others.
You can follow John’s progress or donate directly. Silverton Mountain, Seth Morrison, and other generous donors are launching an ebay auction this week with heli skiing and some sweet gear; all proceeds are going to help the Clauson family.