Man dies doing what he loved

Skier killed in avalanche is remembered fondly

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— Brendan Clancy was planning a sad trip to Farwell Mountain in north Routt County sometime this weekend to see the slope where his older brother, Sean, 34, died March 18 in an avalanche. He was going to take his mother, Diane, with him.

"I'm not going to the exact spot," Brendan said. "But I want to get as close as I can and see the mountain."

"It was the last place my son was alive," Diane said.

Brendan, grew up skiing with his older brother, first on Jiminy Peak, Mass., and later on Willard Mountain near the little town of Easton, N.Y. Willard Mountain boasted a T-bar lift and one chairlift. Diane made sure her boys got out on the slopes at least four times a week, Brendan said.

"I think they were 7 years old before they realized they didn't have to ski on Saturdays," Diane mused. She had become entranced with skiing as a 19-year-old and became an instructor in the Uncle Sam Ski Club in Troy, N.Y. When her own sons were old enough, she could think of nothing better than to introduce them to the sport they loved.

"I was always happiest, even if I was doing drudgery housework, if the boys were off skiing," Diane said. "I would get that warm glow in my heart. It just felt so good."

Later, when Sean had grown to manhood and moved to Steamboat Springs, his mother would visit him and he'd take her to Howelsen Hill and say, "Doesn't it remind you of Willard Mom?"

Both boys took up ski racing at Willard Mountain, but Sean dropped out after a year. He just loved skiing for skiing's sake, his brother said.

"Sean was the prettiest skier you've ever seen," Brendan recalled. "He had a beautiful style. You could tell it was Sean from a half-mile away."

Diane recalled that as a youngster, Sean was the type of boy who would carefully plan out games and activities for the younger children of houseguests in his parents' home. His family members say he retained those gentle qualities as a grown man.

Diane and the boys' father, John Clancy, split up when the brothers were teen-agers. During high school at Troy High School in Troy, N.Y., Sean was a photographer for the school newspaper. Sean spent time working as a ski instructor and as a snowmaker. He enrolled at Lyndon State College in Lyndonville, Vt., and studied ski area management.

Sean was an outdoorsman in all seasons continuing to pursue his love of 35mm landscape photography, kayaking, hunting and fishing. His cabin south of Steamboat in Grouse Creek Park was accessible in winter only by snowmobile. When he and his ex-wife Valerie first moved to Sean's 10 acres, they lived in a little A-frame with no indoor plumbing and no electricity. Later, Sean would build a more comfortable home on his land.

The couple used to haul their own water in two miles on snowmobile and bring the pickup truck battery along so they had enough electricity for one light bulb and a portable radio. Diane recalled that when she visited, she was startled at first to see that they kept their toilet seat warm by the pot-bellied stove. The first time she had to get up in the middle of a winter night and carry the seat to the outhouse under her arm, she came to understand why.

"He just loved this life," Diane said. "He had such a strong work ethic. He drank hard, he worked hard and he played hard."

Sean had been living in Steamboat Springs since 1988. He worked as a lumberjack and as a snowmaker and ski patroller with the Steamboat Ski Area. Recently, he was becoming more serious about a career in construction.

He had worked several stints as a carpenter with Drahota Construction and was held in high regard by his bosses there.

Bob Flock, a construction superintendent, was Sean's supervisor.

Flock's voice was subdued at first as he remembered his protege, but he laughed out loud when he recounted how Sean's lanky 6-foot-7-inch frame refused to fit cleanly through doorframes with a hard hat perched on his head.

"He had a big old dry sense of humor, about as big as he was," Flock said. "He'd bang his head on the door every time he went out."

Flock said Sean was being prepped to take on increasing responsibility with Drahota.

"I'd just hired him on as assistant superintendent. He was a hard worker. You couldn't beat him. He'd been with us before and left, but I think he was ready to make a future with us."

Brendan and his Uncle Mark Hollis were skiing Jay Peak in Vermont when they received word Sean had died in an avalanche in the backcountry north of Steamboat. They rushed to be here with Diane.

Diane said she talked at length with Sean's skiing companions who made heroic efforts to dig him out of the avalanche. She said they told her that unlike the common perception of a roaring avalanche, the snowslide that buried Sean was silent and almost peaceful. One minute, they were looking up at him as he whooped and hollered with every turn in the fresh snow. The next he wasn't there. They thought they would find him in a minute, but one minute turned into five, which turned into 10. Sean, whom they all looked up to, was gone.

When Brendan reach the Yampa Valley and looked again at his brother's rustic cabin near Grouse Park the cabin Sean had built himself of hand-peeled logs the loss struck him particularly hard.

"I wanted to jump in and take Sean's place here in Steamboat," Brendan said. "I really don't want to go home again."

A funeral mass for Sean is planned for Saturday at Holy Name Catholic Church. Friends and family will gather afterward at the Old Town Pub to reminisce about his life.

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