Family, friends mourn man's death

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Michael Gebhardt, who was killed in an avalanche Monday and remembered by friends and family during a memorial service Wednesday, died doing what he loved: making turns on the untracked slopes of the backcountry.

Skiing buddy John Trolley will remember the 26-year-old Steamboat man for his big heart, his one-liners from Christopher Walken movies and, above all, the waist-high powder days they shared together on Buffalo Pass.

"He was a great skier. He was the one looking for the hard line, skiing it tighter, always behind us, pushing us to go harder," Trolley said.

From age 4, skiing was a part of Gebhardt's life. Gebhardt was an Alpine racer for his high school team in Carmel, N.Y., skied two years as part of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association and skied for Green Mountain College in Vermont.

Gebhardt knew how to ski, snowboard and telemark. Next month, he had planned to enter his first extreme skiing competition. He had hopes of getting onto the national circuit, Trolley said.

"He was a fabulous skier, incredible," said Dan Vandevender, who owns Extreme Tuning, where Gebhardt worked. "His heart was so strong. There was nothing he couldn't do. He was so talented."

Some of Gebhardt's antics already may have become Steamboat lore. Trolley recalls the closing day of the Steamboat Ski Area last year when Gebhardt rode his snowmobile up from the Buffalo Pass area to join the annual party at Gate D.

When Gebhardt arrived, he popped the snowmobile's hood and cooked a steak on the engine. At the end of the day, he went down the mountain the same way everyone else -- on Chute One. Only Gebhardt was on his sled.

"He didn't really hesitate on anything," Trolley said about Gebhardt's skiing style.

Gebhardt took his last ski run at about 12:30 p.m. Monday, when he was buried in an avalanche on Soda Mountain, which is northwest of Buffalo Pass. Gebhardt was backcountry skiing with his brother, Philip, and two friends, who were using snowmobiles to access untracked skiing terrain in the area. Gebhardt was on telemark skis that day.

The avalanche was 30 feet wide and fell about 200 vertical feet, sliding from open terrain into a narrow, 20-foot-wide gully, said Dale Atkins of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

Gebhardt was buried under 3 feet of snow, and it took about 8 minutes for his ski partners to find him and shovel him out. The Routt County coroner ruled as suffocation the cause of death.

Trolley said Gebhardt, who had lived in Steamboat for almost four years, was an experienced backcountry skier, who always took precautions and knew the Buffalo Pass area like the back of his hand.

"He is the last person I thought something like that would happen to," Trolley said. "He knew the backcountry very well. He taught me everything back there."

Gebhardt's father, Peter, said his son loved nature and the outdoors. He loved to dirt bike in the summer. He mountain biked, camped, hiked, rock climbed and tried kayaking. Before coming to Steamboat, Gebhardt attended the National Outdoor Leadership School, which teaches wilderness survival and leadership skills.

The weather Wednesday -- six inches of snow, the first in days -- was perfect for Gebhardt's memorial service.

"This was fitting for him. Today, when people are coming to pay tribute, it is snowing," Peter Gebhardt said.

Friends will remember Gebhardt as someone with a big heart, who would light up a room, Vandevender said.

"He would make you laugh hysterically. If you didn't, there was something wrong with you," he said.

Peter Gebhardt said his son would have given a friend the shirt off his back, even if he only had one left. His son didn't worry about monetary things, he said, all he needed were three square meals a day and shelter.

Even after death, Gebhardt gave. His mother, Rosemary, said some of his organs have been donated, something her son believed in strongly.

"He was just a good, good person, with a good heart with a smile on his face," she said.

A memorial fund in Gebhardt's name has been established at the Wells Fargo Bank. The money will go toward a special place in the community, something like a tree with a plaque, where people could go to remember him.

His parents have talked about setting up a scholarship fund that would help pay for tuition for students to attend the National Outdoor Leadership School, an experience that meant so much to Gebhardt.

"We want to make something good from a tragic situation," Rosemary Gebhardt said. "The other way is for people to just keep his memory alive, to remember the special times with him."

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

Christine Metz

PILOT & TODAY STAFF

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS

Michael Gebhardt, who was killed in an avalanche Monday and remembered by friends and family during a memorial service Wednesday, died doing what he loved: making turns on the untracked slopes of the backcountry.

Skiing buddy John Trolley will remember the 26-year-old Steamboat man for his big heart, his one-liners from Christopher Walken movies and, above all, the waist-high powder days they shared together on Buffalo Pass.

"He was a great skier. He was the one looking for the hard line, skiing it tighter, always behind us, pushing us to go harder," Trolley said.

From age 4, skiing was a part of Gebhardt's life. Gebhardt was an Alpine racer for his high school team in Carmel, N.Y., skied two years as part of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association and skied for Green Mountain College in Vermont.

Gebhardt knew how to ski, snowboard and telemark. Next month, he had planned to enter his first extreme skiing competition. He had hopes of getting onto the national circuit, Trolley said.

"He was a fabulous skier, incredible," said Dan Vandevender, who owns Extreme Tuning, where Gebhardt worked. "His heart was so strong. There was nothing he couldn't do. He was so talented."

Some of Gebhardt's antics already may have become Steamboat lore. Trolley recalls the closing day of the Steamboat Ski Area last year when Gebhardt rode his snowmobile up from the Buffalo Pass area to join the annual party at Gate D.

When Gebhardt arrived, he popped the snowmobile's hood and cooked a steak on the engine. At the end of the day, he went down the mountain the same way everyone else -- on Chute One. Only Gebhardt was on his sled.

"He didn't really hesitate on anything," Trolley said about Gebhardt's skiing style.

Gebhardt took his last ski run at about 12:30 p.m. Monday, when he was buried in an avalanche on Soda Mountain, which is northwest of Buffalo Pass. Gebhardt was backcountry skiing with his brother, Philip, and two friends, who were using snowmobiles to access untracked skiing terrain in the area. Gebhardt was on telemark skis that day.

The avalanche was 30 feet wide and fell about 200 vertical feet, sliding from open terrain into a narrow, 20-foot-wide gully, said Dale Atkins of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

Gebhardt was buried under 3 feet of snow, and it took about 8 minutes for his ski partners to find him and shovel him out. The Routt County coroner ruled as suffocation the cause of death.

Trolley said Gebhardt, who had lived in Steamboat for almost four years, was an experienced backcountry skier, who always took precautions and knew the Buffalo Pass area like the back of his hand.

"He is the last person I thought something like that would happen to," Trolley said. "He knew the backcountry very well. He taught me everything back there."

Gebhardt's father, Peter, said his son loved nature and the outdoors. He loved to dirt bike in the summer. He mountain biked, camped, hiked, rock climbed and tried kayaking. Before coming to Steamboat, Gebhardt attended the National Outdoor Leadership School, which teaches wilderness survival and leadership skills.

The weather Wednesday -- six inches of snow, the first in days -- was perfect for Gebhardt's memorial service.

"This was fitting for him. Today, when people are coming to pay tribute, it is snowing," Peter Gebhardt said.

Friends will remember Gebhardt as someone with a big heart, who would light up a room, Vandevender said.

"He would make you laugh hysterically. If you didn't, there was something wrong with you," he said.

Peter Gebhardt said his son would have given a friend the shirt off his back, even if he only had one left. His son didn't worry about monetary things, he said, all he needed were three square meals a day and shelter.

Even after death, Gebhardt gave. His mother, Rosemary, said some of his organs have been donated, something her son believed in strongly.

"He was just a good, good person, with a good heart with a smile on his face," she said.

A memorial fund in Gebhardt's name has been established at the Wells Fargo Bank. The money will go toward a special place in the community, something like a tree with a plaque, where people could go to remember him.

His parents have talked about setting up a scholarship fund that would help pay for tuition for students to attend the National Outdoor Leadership School, an experience that meant so much to Gebhardt.

"We want to make something good from a tragic situation," Rosemary Gebhardt said. "The other way is for people to just keep his memory alive, to remember the special times with him."

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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