Spackman 'a gem'
Friends and family remember a man who loved mountains, excelled at living life to the fullest.
Jarad Spackman descends the Birth Canal couloir in early February in Grand Teton National Park. Spackman died Friday in an avalanche while ascending the Apocalypse Couloir on the north side of Prospectors Mountain in the park. “It was an honor to call him my best friend,” said Christian Beckwith, who was with him Friday. CHRISTIAN BECKWITH / COURTESY PHOTOView our entire photo gallery >>
By Lindsay Wood and Mike Koshmrl, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
March 6, 2013
Whenever brothers Jarad and Brandon Spackman were muddled by the stresses of life or the real estate business, they would recharge by hiking the boot pack up Mount Glory at sunset.
That was a typical day for Jarad Spackman. He was a world-class athlete, a connected community member, a loving husband, a special friend, a talented businessman, a much-loved son and an incredible brother, Brandon Spackman said.
Jarad Spackman was killed Friday in an avalanche in Grand Teton National Park.
Whether it was snowboard mountaineering or climbing, showing a client a home or loving his family, Spackman did everything in his life with zest, friends said.
On Feb. 28, he and his wife, Stephanie, settled down for the evening. He squeezed her hand.
“You’re the best,” he said. “I love you so much. You take such good care of me.”
Jarad and Stephanie Spackman would have celebrated their 10th anniversary in September. To many of their friends, their relationship was the stuff of fairy tales and romance novels. For the couple, that tender moment was one of many that were supposed to be ahead of them.
The next day at about 10:30 a.m., Spackman was ascending Prospectors Mountain with his close friend Christian Beckwith. He was basking in the grandeur of his surroundings when he suddenly yelled at Beckwith to get out of the way. An avalanche swept Spackman 1,000 feet down the narrow, steep Apocalypse Couloir.
Beckwith found him and performed CPR, but he had died in the slide.
“We lost a gem of a man,” Beckwith said. “It was an honor to call him my best friend.”
After reflecting on his 40 years of life, Spackman’s friends and family know it isn’t the quantity of his life that matters but the quality.
“The way he lived life was an example of how other people should live life to the fullest,” said Tim Walther, his friend of 15 years.
It was Spackman’s childhood that gave him such a vibrant outlook, said those who knew him.
At age 2, he fell and broke his leg. Toddling around in his walking cast, he fell again, but this time his tumble resulted in a spinal fracture and required a full-body cast. At 8 and 10 years old, he injured and reinjured his knee, and surgery was required to fix the damaged growth plate in his leg.
“A pediatrician said to me, ‘Your son will either be very cautious or he will just go for it,’” said his mother, Susie Spackman.
Jarad Spackman never held back, friends and family said. He lived his motto: “Live life to the fullest, guided by love.”
Spackman knew he wanted to make his life in Jackson Hole. After graduating summa cum laude from the University of Colorado in Boulder in 1995, he returned to Jackson to work with his brother and father, Dave, the developer of Teton Pines, in the family real estate business. The family moved here 35 years ago, and 18 years later the Spackman men were thriving as a team with Sotheby’s International Realty.
“We just balanced each other,” Brandon Spackman said. “We worked really well together.”
Jarad Spackman also volunteered for the Teton Mentor Project and served as a board member of the Jackson Hole Land Trust.
His personality and determination made him a force to be reckoned with in business. But his magnetism also drew a slew of friends.
Walther and Beckwith both described him as the most fun and uncomplicated guy they’d ever known.
“He could have a billionaire on one side and a skid with $3 in his pocket on the other and be equally engaged with both of them,” Walther said. “He had no ego.”
Avid climbers, Spackman and Walther became close through their adventures. The two once got a “harebrained idea,” Walther recalls, to load up in a friend’s Cessna and fly to Las Vegas. Walther said that’s the kind of man Spackman was: always down for a good laugh or an exotic trip.
“He would have put the Rolling Stones to shame,” Beckwith said of his friend’s ability to have fun anywhere. “And he wasn’t happy unless everybody was happy.”
Spackman’s travels were a big part of his life with his family and friends. He and his brother traveled together to Alaska, Iceland, the Himalaya and Antarctica. He and his wife rock-climbed all over the U.S., Cuba and Thailand. He accompanied his mother on a trip to the Cayman Islands and on a climb up Teewinot Mountain.
Susie Spackman had never climbed before, but she and her son made the summit of Teewinot together. From that day forward, he called Teewinot his mother’s mountain.
“I’ll never forget it as long as I live,” she said. “I felt so close to him.”
Spackman was trusted by his friends and family. His self-assurance put others at ease, they said, and his positive outlook lightened their loads.
“I always knew we would get out safe together,” Brandon Spackman said. “He was an incredible partner in life and in the mountains. There were lots of wonderful times.”
Today Jarad Spackman is at peace and probably in the mountains, Stephanie Spackman said. That’s where he was most at home and the place he felt closest to God, his father said.
“With his loss, I think, with the tears and the sadness and the pain comes the one thought that we all share, that will warm our hearts forever and eternally make us smile: That we were able to love him,” Susie Spackman said.
Spackman in 'no-fall zone' when slide hit
Investigators found no crown to the avalanche that sent a Jackson Hole realtor tumbling 1,000 feet to his death last week in Apocalypse Couloir, a narrow chute on Prospectors Mountain.
Jarad Spackman, 40, was an experienced mountaineer and backcountry snowboarder, and had ascended Apocolypse Couloir just weeks before his fatal fall, according to a web posting. When the avalanche occurred at around 10:45 a.m. Friday, he was ascending the gully with Christian Beckwith, a local adventure writer.
The feature is at the southern end of the Teton Range in Grand Teton National Park. The face above is known by climbers to be plagued by spindrift, or loose-snow avalanches.
The pair had their sights set on an adjacent seldom- or never-skied slope off the 11,241-foot mountain’s north face, park rangers believe.
“I think their goal was to ski or board something new,” Jenny Lake sub district ranger Scott Guenther said.
Spackman was wearing crampons and a helmet, Guenther, the head rescue ranger, said. Beckwith, who would not be interviewed for this story, said in a text message that his partner was carrying an ice axe.
The mountaineers were not roped, although that’s not out of the ordinary for a winter ascent of a couloir such as Apocalypse. The couloir has three sections — the bottom gully, a snow bowl, and another couloir above the bowl.
The narrow nature of the bottom gully concentrates the flow of avalanches.
The pair skied up Death Canyon to the couloir. They were in the lower gully, about 200 feet below the bowl when the slide hit, rangers said.
Spackman, who was about 20 feet behind Beckwith, saw the avalanche coming, rangers said.
He yelled out either “watch out or heads up, ” Guenther said.
Beckwith “moved left quickly and hunkered in,” Guenther said. “He felt it impact him.
“A few seconds and it was done,” the ranger said. “He looked down and Jarad was gone.”
Little is known about the particulars of the slide that killed Spackman, including its source, Guenther and Jenny Lake ranger Chris Harder said. The Bridger-Teton National Forest Avalanche Center has classified it as a natural slide of loose snow, admitting details are sketchy.
Rangers flew past the area after the incident and could see no sign of a crown fracture in the snowpack. Visibility wasn’t ideal when they investigated.
Harder, who was at the scene, said it was too dangerous to go up the couloir for an inspection.
“We don’t think it was a slab,” he said, “It probably came from above. ... It could have started way up high.”
There was no indication either Beckwith, a skier, or Spackman, who was carrying a splitboard, triggered the snow slide, Harder said.
“It could be a big gust of wind,” Harder said.
After the slide swept his partner away, Beckwith removed his crampons and changed into his skies to reach him, the rangers said. The slope is about 50 degrees at that spot, rangers said.
“Christian had to compose himself in a pretty nasty spot,” Harder said. “To his credit, he didn’t screw up and did things as quickly as he could.”
The gully down which the slide carried Spackman is narrow, twisting and bounded by unforgiving rock walls.
“Any time of year, it’s a no-fall zone due to the nature of the couloir,” he said. “It winds around ... You’re going to be tumbling and bouncing.”
Spackman was only partly buried and facedown in the snow when Beckwith found him on a fan of avalanche debris, Guenther said.
The detritus was not substantial, rangers said.
Spackman likely died instantly, having suffered blunt-force trauma to his neck, back and legs, Deputy Teton County Coroner Dave Hodges said.
The avalanche danger on Friday was listed as moderate above 9,000 feet, according to the Bridger-Teton National Forest Avalanche Center. Seven inches of snow had fallen in the previous 24 hours at a plot to the south on Rendezvous Mountain.
On Thursday — just a day before the fatal slide — a small snowboarder-caused avalanche was reported in Apocalypse Couloir, avalanche center director Bob Comey said.
Comey said the avalanche center’s rating doesn’t capture risk on terrain as extreme as the couloir.
“It’s very tight, it’s very narrow, and if something knocks you over you have the potential to slide down the whole thing,” Comey said Friday. “It’s the real deal. It’s way beyond the real deal. Skiing it’s not within the realm of normal behavior, from my perspective.”
Beckwith has made a career of climbing and descending seldom-skied nooks and cranies of the Tetons. Spackman and he were frequent winter mountaineering partners, posts to Beckwith’s Outerlocal website show.
The site once billed itself as being “devoted to the sports that can kill you and the people who love them.”
“We’ve been almost dying and loving it for a year now,” a 2011 post said, on the site’s one-year anniversary.
In January, Outerlocal and Outdoor Research debuted a video series called “Stormriders,” which follows Beckwith’s 2012-2013 ski mountaineering season. It was posted on GetUnderGrounded.com.
The second episode of the series, “Gravity’s a Bitch,” features Beckwith contemplating the high-consequence nature of his alpine adventures.
“It’s not just the objective hazards I’m concerned about, it’s gravity,” he says. “I’m 44 now, the father of a 2-year-old, trying to get a business off the ground.”
Yet, he says, “I want to go big this winter.”
Spackman’s death marks the second avalanche fatality in Grand Teton National Park this year. On Jan. 27. an avalanche on Survey Peak in the northern Teton Range killed 30-year-old Nick Gillespie. That same day, 28-year-old Elizabeth “Liza” Benson lost her life after being caught in a slide 60 miles to the south near Clause Peak.
— Angus M. Thuermer Jr contributed to this story.