Monday, January 16, 2017
A Tribute to Lucas Sven Halgren, Ski Patroller
by Jim Gooch, Mount Snow Ski Patrol, West Dover, Vermont
Photo: William Cohen
Mount Snow Ski Patrol lost a beloved member, Lucas Sven Halgren, age 24, to a tragic motorcycle accident in New Zealand on December 27, 2016.
Now that we’ve lost him, it is obvious that the Mount Snow Ski Patrol needed Lucas Sven Halgren more than he wanted to be a patroller. And he really wanted to be one.
Patrol is undeniably rewarding, and sometimes exciting. But beyond our rescue responsibilities and frequent training for medical and operational emergencies, the bulk of the job is labor. On Mount Snow we’re responsible for virtually every rope, digging out and replacing tower pads, shoveling decks, trimming trees, and marking hazards. There’s so much of this work to do that patrol will hire people who only get the drudgery and none of the excitement, to be exclusively “trail crew.” They get a red jacket, a shovel, little credit, and no white cross.
His first year, Lucas (as we called him then) was on the trail crew.
Before the winter of 2013, he walked into the office of our patrol director like a normal person. But it seemed every time he came into the summit patrol building the door was blown off. He ripped all over the mountain on too-long find-me-down skis from 1991 with insanely out-of-control skidded turns, mach-looney on the steepest runs…just completely nutso for speed.
He really wanted to be a Patroller. But he wasn’t quite putting it all together.
We all love to ski, but you sacrifice a little freedom on Patrol, even off duty, at least on your “home” hill where people recognize you. You hope to trade that freedom for credibility. After one too many “incidents” on the mountain he was read the riot act: Cool it, or forget about being on Patrol.
So Lucas toned it down. For, like, a day.
Two days later I was riding to the summit when his posse came ripping down under the lift. Suddenly a skier, who looked like a Chewbacca crossed with Shane McConkey riding Glen Plake’s neon K2 straight skis, popped off a kicker between the trees, grabbed his left ski near the binding, and ripped off toward the base with a whoop and a holler.
Sven, “toning it down.”
I didn’t tell anyone that story until I learned he’d died, two years later, by the side of the road in New Zealand next to the wreck of a motorcycle that couldn’t keep up with his furious, joyful pace.
You see, the thing about that kicker in the trees is that it doesn’t exist. There’s nothing there: no lip, no booter, no tree root, nothing. But Sven Halgren found it – he made it a hit.
Eventually, he earned his cross and qualified as a patroller with the National Ski Patrol and served with us at Mount Snow. And he pretty much managed to tone it down on the hill, at least within reason. He never seemed to have a bad day; never uttered an unkind word. And being a patroller unlocked a new door for Sven, created a channel for his joy: helping people when they were vulnerable and in need. Strong as ox and an accomplished athlete, he was becoming the type of focused patroller who could be trusted under the most stressful circumstances – the type of patroller you were glad to see show up to help you. He followed that new passion to New Zealand, where he worked as a glacier guide on Mount Cook.
But he never let off the gas in life. There are a lot of Sven stories that all follow the same theme: this kid lived.
He lived hard, and loud, and giant.
He made close friends throughout the Mount Snow family, among people from all departments and from all over the world. For some of us, he was part of our crew. As for me, I loved him like a nephew or younger cousin – who I paradoxically wanted to be more like. He didn’t really need your help but he had a way of eliciting it, a way of making you want to clear the way for him, just to see how much of the landscape he could devour.
He was hilarious, he was amazing.
On occasion, he’d smile at you in kind of a preemptive way as if to say, “I know, I know. That’s crazy. No one would ever do that.” But at the same time his eyes would hold something in reserve: a kindly and honest confusion that contradicted his smile and wondered “Is that crazy? Why isn’t everyone doing that?”
We needed that. He gave us that, for free, every day – a reminder of what first brought us to the mountains, an unalloyed shot of living as reckless and joy-filled as the perfect powder run.
Because of that gift, and thanks to the memory of a skier flying through the trees, making a grab off a booter that doesn’t exist, he can live on just a little longer -- at least until the day I die. As for the Mount Snow patrol, when we stand as sentinels in the half-light across our mountain before sweep, when the spindrift coils around our ankles, and the trees bow and toil under snow and ice and all is perfectly still and quiet, we think to ourselves, “This is a day for Sven.”
A short article about Lucas Halgren and his twin brother Patrick:
Sven going switch into the pond skim. Photo: Mike Pinewski