The Sweet Music of the Line

Saying good-bye to one of the nation's greatest ski mountaineers

Jan 8, 2001
Outside Magazine

Saari in Peru, June 2000

ON THE MORNING OF May 8, ski mountaineer Hans Saari and photographer Kristoffer Erickson, Saari's ski partner, hiked to the top of the Mont Blanc du Tacul for an attempt on the Gervasutti—a 3,000-foot couloir near Chamonix, France. Keen to put a new twist on the run, the two bypassed the usual entrance to the chute in favor of a steeper and more challenging route. A few turns down, Saari, in the lead, slipped on a hidden patch of ice, and then tumbled an estimated 1,500 feet.Despite the quick response of a rescue crew, he died of head trauma. He was 30.

A year before the accident, Saari and Erickson had skied another chute—this one in Montana. They'd dubbed it the Patriarch, in honor of the late Alex Lowe, their climbing partner and mentor, who had perished in an October 1999 avalanche on Tibet's Mount Shishapangma. One of the nation's premier ski mountaineers, Saari, a key player in Outside's feature on the commercial and peer pressures of his sport, was also a talented writer. His lyrical account of that Montana descent could well serve as his epitaph. "To carve turns deliberately and skillfully down the throat of the peak from summit to base creates the line," he wrote several months later. "The vibrancy of the line means everything. Like a cello, there is no sound until the string is taut. The more you struggle, the tighter the string, the greater the music."

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