WORDS: Bo Torrey
It's hard to feel sad when you're riding Snowbird's tram to the top of 11,000-foot Hidden Peak, but on this particular ride in late August to attend the memorial of my friend, Matt Heffernan, every passenger carried heavy, mixed emotions. Heffernan was 23 when he passed away in a cliff-jumping accident on August 15th. On the one hand, I felt happy and fortunate to have known such a great guy. At the same time, I felt empty; he wasn’t here to share this experience with us. If he had been in this tram with us, he would have been scoping lines and pointing out cliffs to come back to hit next winter.
As we approached the dock, the passengers on board started a loud chant: "Heffy, Heffy, Heffy!" When the tram doors opened, you could feel the cool summer breeze and the undeniable love for Matt. Hundreds of people showed up to pay their respects.
Matt would have loved the gathering. One of his favorite things to do was climb to the top of a mountain, drink a couple beers, and watch the sunset with friends. So that's exactly what we did. Over 500 people gathered at the top of the Little Cloud chairlift to celebrate Matt. We shared stories, tears, laughs, and the overwhelming appreciation of the time we all had with him. I kept hearing: "Only Matt could bring everybody together like this." It didn't matter if you knew him his entire life or had only spent one chairlift ride with him, Matt connected so well with so many different people because you could see in him what you wanted to see in yourself. He was driven, caring, intelligent, goofy, optimistic, and constantly looking for the next boundary-pushing thrill. We always joked that if you introduced Matt to a new sport, it wouldn't be long before he left you in the dust and started showing you the ropes.
Matt was a park skier when he moved to Utah in 2009. He spent the majority of his first winter sliding rails and hitting perfectly groomed jumps. He'd be the first to tell you: "I’m from Ohio and I suck at skiing powder.” But that changed as soon as he got his first season pass to Snowbird. I played tour guide his first season skiing and showed him all the popular hits and secret stashes. We opened his eyes to a new mountain and a new way to approach skiing. Two years later and Matt became our guide, sending smooth threes into tight chutes and straightlining triple-stagers like he had been doing it his entire life. That was Matt for you; he had so much natural talent and so much confidence that we were constantly left in awe. Nothing seemed to slow him down, other than maybe a few too many $5 shot-and-beer combos at the Tram Club, but even then he was showing you up and bouncing around the room chatting up every table. Matt’s passion for skiing was so strong that he put his accounting degree on hold for the moment, choosing instead to ski almost every day of the week. He didn't mind living paycheck to paycheck and working a fluff job if it meant he could be on the mountain every day.
Losing a close friend is an ugly part of life. You never want to forget about the good times you spent together, but life must move forward and with that comes a new perspective. Matt taught me the importance of life, friendship, adventure, and opportunity. I'll never forget the words that Kyle Harmon spoke at Matt's ceremony: "There are two ways to look at every situation: the negative way and the positive way. And we all know how Matt would look at things." It was always the positive way for Matt. He will always remind me to constantly challenge myself and to never take things too seriously. As he would always say, "Have fun, go fast, and do something crazy."
Bo Torrey works at the Utah Avalanche Center and was a friend to Matt Heffernan.