The Final Descent of Dean Cummings
From the outside, things seemed perfect for the former world extreme skiing champion: he had a family, a successful guiding business, and unending adventure out his front door in Valdez, Alaska. But something dark festered beneath the surface.
Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
Early November 2018, Wolf Creek Pass, Colorado
Davey Pitcher watched the shiny yellow sports car roll through the parking lot and pull up just below his office window at Wolf Creek Ski Area, a small operation in southern Colorado that Pitcher runs. A man with a square jaw and muscular build got out. Pitcher immediately recognized legendary big-mountain skier and heli-ski guide Dean Cummings, his friend of 30 years. The car was packed, like it was being lived in. Cummings walked up the stairs to Pitcher’s office, as he did almost every fall when he came to ski early-season powder.
The ski area wasn’t open yet, but the U.S. Freestyle Moguls Team was training near the summit. Pitcher figured that Cummings, who launched his career with the team in 1991, would be eager to ski with them.
Cummings sat down across from Pitcher’s desk, but before Pitcher could say anything, Cummings dove into a rambling saga centered in Valdez, Alaska, where he’d lived for more than two decades. People’s identities were being taken over, Cummings said. A criminal syndicate involving his wife, Karen, had sabotaged his heli-ski business, H2O Guides, and was trying to kill him. While en route to Wolf Creek, Cummings said, a semitruck had belched poison at him through its exhaust pipe, making his heart race. Taken aback, Pitcher tried to change the subject.
The U.S. team is up on the hill (Editor’s note: Quotes in italics have been reconstructed to the best of the sources’ memories.), he said. The team was coached by Caleb Martin, a skier from Telluride, Colorado, who held Cummings in high esteem.
Caleb’s here? said Cummings, brightening at the mention of an old acquaintance. I used to talk to Caleb when I taught avalanche awareness in schools.
Well, let’s go jump on the lift, he’d love to see you, Pitcher said. Cummings made excuses, said he hadn’t brought his skis. Pitcher told him there were thousands of skis and boots in the lodge, some brand-new.
No, I’ve got to go, Cummings said. He wrote down a number and handed it across the desk. I’m meeting an FBI agent in Albuquerque, he’s going to help me. I need you to be the contact. When you see this number come up, answer it. You can pass on information.
Pitcher said he didn’t always have cell service; someone else would probably be better. Cummings looked disappointed. Pitcher had no idea how drastically his friend’s life had splintered—that Cummings, 53, had been divorced, lost his home, lost custody of his three children, and seen his once thriving business implode. Or that Cumming’s behavior would soon lead to a man lying dead on the floor of a trailer in the New Mexico desert.
Cummings got up to leave. He walked back down to the sports car, and Pitcher watched him drive away just 15 minutes after he’d arrived.
“That was the first time in my life that Deano didn’t want to go skiing,” Pitcher says. “It was very sad. It was obvious that he was not within a reality that you could quite buy into. When he departed, I just felt like it was the end of an era. I felt that he was headed for trouble.”