“Little Air” Dave is gone.
This week, Dave Treadway, a fantastic skier out of Whistler, was killed when a snow bridge he was crossing collapsed outside of Pemberton, sending him plummeting deep into a crevasse. It’s an indescribable tragedy for the mountain community as Dave leaves behind his wife, Tessa, two sons, and a third child on the way.
I’m having a rough time with it myself as I type this.
Having grown up in the shadows of his older brother Dan, whose legendary status gave him rightful claim to the moniker “Big Air”, Dave’s nickname was predestined. But being the little brother to Dan and Daryl was a role that Dave relished. Growing up as a pack of brothers can be tough, but one aspect of most families of boys is incessant competition. As the youngest, you’re faced with the choice to either submit to your bigger brothers or learn from their mistakes. Some people might’ve been intimidated with a big brother who was an icon of the sport, but Dave saw his brother’s achievements as motivation to launch his own career and make it uniquely his own. That was right around the time I met him.
It was 2004. We were both kids, really, despite thinking we were so grown up. I’d spent my first summer living out of my Subaru in the day lots at the foot of Whistler and Blackcomb. As winter rolled around I knew I needed accommodation, and through a mutual friend, got connected to Dave. He ended up being my first housemate in a town I’ve now called home longer than anywhere else.
We lived in a complex called the Mine Shafts, an L-shaped set of 1970s-era townhouses tightly built into a rocky outcrop tucked into the big bend on Whistler Road. It smelled like old laundry and humidity but was only a 10-minute walk from the Creekside Gondola.
The first time we skied together, I saw his quiet confidence when assessing lines. It didn’t take long, but you could see the calculation at a superhuman pace — sizing up the terrain and snow and visualizing the line before he executed it with effortless precision. I knew he was the real deal.
I remember one low-vis day riding with Dave along Whistler’s VD ridge. It was 15 years ago but seems like yesterday. We’d agreed on a section between Air Jordan and Domanski’s that neither of us had tried before. Surveying the top through the misty half-snow, half-fog I spotted a rather dicey line. Before I could wuss out, Dave had taken off, showing me the way.
I realized later that the whole ridge was visible while riding Red Chair so who knows how many times he’d visualized that line before actually styling it. I never looked at lines with that kind of dedication. He showed me what that was about, and used that skill to make a life – doing what he loved with the people he loved.
As often happens, we went our separate ways, but not before many days on the hill and my first introductions to the backcountry. While most of us spend our twenties searching for what we’re supposed to do with our lives, Dave set it out with clear intention. He wanted to be the best damn skier on the mountain. And over the years, he proved to the world that on any given day, he could be.
It’s inspiring to see someone climb the ranks of both popularity and skill. After that first winter, I moved into a bigger place, where my friend was making custom skis in our garage, which would eventually lead to making Dave’s first official pro model. From there, things only went up. Dave went on to bigger things, scoring a sponsorship deal with Rossignol, Peak Performance, and a few others that would set him on a trajectory that would see him make it as a pro athlete. He had many accomplishments, but the one that stuck out in my mind was winning the Big Mountain portion of the Red Bull Cold Rush 2011 by stomping a 50-foot cliff on not only his first run of the day but his first run skiing in Colorado, ever. That type of adaptability to terrain only comes from years of experience.
Which brings us to the topic of experience, risk, and the elephant in the room that the keyboard warriors froth over: criticizing the road to his fate and how he ended up at the bottom of a nearly 100-foot crevasse. I admit while going through the anger stage of grief, I played out the worst case scenario in my head; getting upset that he could have let his guard down, not properly evaluating the risk. I think we all do it, to a degree, as we transition between the stages of grief, trying to make the impossible jump into some other parallel universe that would have our friends and loved ones still around if they only made a different decision. Put simply, people are attracted to the mountains for their unpredictability. But for Dave to make a careless mistake would go against everything I knew about him and his motivations in life. So I reached out to those in the community to see if I could find answers.
Skiing legend Mike Douglas met Dave around the same time I did and had a different relationship to him as a mentor and fellow professional. But even he remarked on Dave’s ability to set an example. “When Dave got to the point of where he and Tessa got married and started having kids — he, more publicly than most, said ‘you know, it’s time to dial back the risk,'” Mike told me over the phone. “And that was something I paid attention to because I kinda did it more quietly when my wife and I had kids, but that was something that I commended.”
But still, how could this happen? I’m left still struggling with the loss but also wanting to know if there was something we could all learn from it. Mike is ingrained in the Whistler mountain community. Even more so than me. “I wasn’t there, so I don’t know exactly what happened, but the reports I have heard… this was a freak accident and could have happened to anybody,” he said. “He wasn’t even skiing, he was sidestepping the glacier to get a shot, and literally the ground just dropped out from under him. Dave is well-qualified to know that if there’s a sag on a glacial slope that there’s a crevasse underneath. There was obviously no indication, and I have 100 percent belief in his abilities. There was just a piece of snow, he stepped onto it, it gave way, and that was it.”
For his loved ones and those who he was close to, the task of ensuring that his family is well cared for begins. Judging by the response to a GoFundMe page set up for his wife and children, the financial aspect will be well looked after. But for the family that inspired many through their social media adventures as the “Free Range Family“, their guiding light is now gone. Or is it? As a man of devout Christian faith, his life was only a preparation for something bigger. So in his honor, it would only be right to take solace in that idea, whether it’s part of your belief system or not.
The romantic notion of “living the dream” and living a life of adventure and risk may seem irresponsible to some. To others — and I believe most who are drawn to the mountains share a similar ethos — getting old while living a life of stress and regret for the things you couldn’t find the courage to do is more of a tragedy than dying young and living your own personal version of heaven.
A GoFundMe page has been set up in support of the Treadway family.