Hadley Hammer Is OK Fumbling Her Way Through It
When the love of her life died in the mountains, the pro skier learned that navigating loss meant accepting that things will be messy
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Hadley Hammer told her story to producer Paddy O’Connell for an episode of The Daily Rally podcast. It has been edited for length and clarity.
The most life defining moment I’ve had, the one that separated everything from before this moment happened and after this moment happened, was getting a phone call that my partner and love of my life had died in the mountains.
I don’t fully remember the details, I do remember dropping to the ground and the people that were around me rushing to my side. And this overwhelming darkness.
I originally grew up in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I moved to France last winter and successfully in this day of the internet hid that from everyone, which I’m mildly proud of. Everyone’s like, “Oh, you live in France now?” And I’m like, Oh, great. It’s nice to know you can keep secrets in 2022.
Professionally, I am a skier, specializing more in ski mountaineering, free ride skiing, and, if you lived in the ’80s, extreme skiing. My life has been filled with a lot of ski towns.
My passion as a human is to have as many experiences and subsequently as many emotions as possible.
It was April 2019. I was in Lake Tahoe, California. We had finished a day of skiing. I hadn’t heard from my partner, who was doing an expedition on Howse Peak in Canada near Canmore, but I wasn’t too worried. I’ve spent a lot of time in the mountains myself as a professional, and he was a professional alpinist. Sometimes you’re late coming back from the mountains.
It was the afternoon, I had slowly gotten worried, but when I received a text from one of the higher-ups at the North Face, which was one of our mutual sponsors, to call him, my stomach started to drop. The second I called him, his first words were, “David’s dead.”
I have no idea what the rest of his words were. I couldn’t even open my eyes. Or if I did, I was so balled up, because your entire body sort of shuts down. So everything felt quite dark. I remember it feeling kind of violent, even though nothing violent was actually happening to me.
It was most likely a serac fall, which essentially caused an avalanche that swept him and his two partners off a mountain.
My best friend and I flew out a few days later and waited in Canada while the search and rescue was performed, which took something like five days. It was quite dangerous. There were a lot of avalanches after the one that took them off the mountain. I’m pretty sure I just cried my way through those five days. It just felt very, very sad and heavy and really unsurvivable.
What was really marked over those days and months and pretty much the first year after the accident was how physical grief is. Be it a lack of sleep (I don’t think I slept more than four hours for a year straight), a lack of ability to eat, and then really low energy because you’re not sleeping or eating. I was always cold, always really tired. The weight of existence was so intense.
The only place I felt like I could really be was in the mountains, which I think for some people didn’t make a lot of sense. Just because I lost someone in the mountains doesn’t mean I can get rid of that inner drive to go there. That’s been there since I was a child, in the mountains you feel no judgment. A tree’s not standing there telling you you should be happier or to get over your loss or you’re being ridiculous or stop crying. So I spent essentially the next two and a half years in the mountains as much as possible.
The first time I went skiing after David passed was within a week in Aspen, Colorado. I remember so strongly how fun those turns felt. I remember laughing while skiing down through these trees, just wiggling through. The snow wasn’t particularly good. It was really warm. I think it had been raining at some point during the day. It was the first feeling of joy I had; pure, simple joy. And at first it does feel contradictory, but I think that is the defining trait of going through grief. Eventually, just being a human, you start to feel different emotions at once.
I think my life is beautiful, and I also think it sucks sometimes. I think loss provides you with these great feelings of strength and freedom of self and wonderment, and also sleep deprivation and darkness and sadness. And you just start to accept that all those contradictions are gonna be in your backpack.
I think one of the gifts I got from David’s passing is that we were wildly in love with each other. We didn’t have anything unsaid. And that’s helped me actually, in a really beautiful way, orient my life in this year where it really felt like survival, like I was having such a hard time just functioning. I just felt that I had so much gratitude for those people around me, and I wanted them to know it.
I’ve had beautiful days where I’ve written out my own will. I’ve written letters on my birthday every year since to people that mean a lot to me to be delivered only on my death. And I make sure that as many of my relationships are on solid ground as can be. The love that I have is here and that’s what I should be fostering the most and taking care of the most.
To anyone experiencing any sort of loss, give yourself some grace. Loss is so disorienting and it takes time to find your footing. It takes time to accept those emotions. It takes time to work through the fear. Because the world will look so different no matter if it’s a big loss or a small loss, and it’s okay that you’re going to fumble your way through it. And you will get through it to some other side. It will be messy, and that’s okay. It’s not something to perfect, it’s something to experience.
Hadley Hammer is a professional skier and ski mountaineer who has appeared in a number of films. She is also a talented writer. You can read her work at hadleyhammer.com/discourse, and you can follow her many adventures on Instagram @hadhammer.
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