Coming Back Strong
Roger Strong returns to the scene of the avalanche that almost took his life
Words: Fitz Cahall
Skier, climber, and father Roger Strong is a Pacific Northwest legend. He was crab boat captain, then a professional athlete and ski rep and most of all he was enthusiastic about the mountains as anyone. On April 6th, 2011, an avalanche on Washington’s Mount Snoqualmie nearly ended his life.
He’d done this particular tour more than 150 times in all types of conditions, often in the early morning hours before work. That day, the fiver skiers in the group decided that their original objective to ski the north face of Mount Snoqualmie—a beautiful couloir dubbed “The Slot”—was out of the question because of the avalanche conditions, but they decided to continue on for a few more kick turns just to complete the morning’s work out before skiing down and heading to work.
A few minutes later, a slab broke enchaining loose snow and carrying three of the five skiers down the slope. When the snow settled, Roger was mostly above the surface. He quickly dug himself out but discovered that he could not stand. His knees were completely destroyed and his legs broken, but it was clear how lucky he’d been. He was alive. His friends were alive. Those are the facts of Strong’s accident. Then it was time to dig out emotionally.
Once the snow stops moving after a life changing accident like this, the inner tumult begins. Strong was confined to a bed, then a wheelchair. He replayed the events over and over. He thought about the choices he’d made as a father and as a husband and the choices he wanted to make moving forward.
Strong made a choice. He didn’t want to give up skiing. He’d been lucky enough to learn from his mistake. So he underwent an incredible series of surgeries to repair his knees and threw himself into rehab. His recovery went faster than anyone could have imagined. He was skiing groomers within ten months. A year to the accident’s date, he returned to Mount Snoqualmie and began skinning with a deeper sense of understanding for the sport and his own life. When he got to the spot, he took a moment to call his wife and daughter. To say thank you. To say that he loved them. To say that he was thinking of them. He analyzed the conditions, took a few deep breathes and dropped in to the ski line he’d been thinking about for over a year.