By Maya Hunger
On January 1, the Mt. Baker Ski Area quietly greeted the new year. It was a calm and clear morning and the sun had just reached Mt. Shuksan’s hanging glacier as the news spread across the mountain: Randy Hook, Mt Baker’s legendary Hawaiian-shirt-wearing, mustache-toting, pro-patroller-turned-grandfather figure, had passed away at work while snowmobiling around the ski area.
I caught the fourth chair on chair 5 that morning and as we reached the top, a large bald eagle came into view, its wings hardly beating as it rode the updrafts amid the golden morning light. The eagle circled the entire ski area from the top of Chair 8 to the patrol shack near Chair 1 – we watched, captivated. Behind us the helicopter came and landed in the back of the parking lot.
At White Salmon Lodge, hundreds of hugs were exchanged and dozens of shoulders were cried upon. Even in our divided time his loss was felt by a unified community that, in many respects, acted as Randy’s family. As the sun set that evening many employees gathered to watch the film “Hook” in his honor, and at his memorial a few days later, Chair 9 was so full there wasn’t a spare parking space within a mile.
“No one could say exactly what Randy did on the mountain because he did so much he made himself indispensable,” said Anthony Brown, a friend of Randy’s and former ski area employee. “I think he’d returned for so many seasons that it was understood that he would probably work for the mountain until he couldn’t anymore.”
Randy’s impact on the Mt. Baker and Glacier communities is difficult to quantify. In many ways Randy was just as much a part of the mountain as its raven logo, Avenue Bread chowder bowls and heavy Pacific Northwest snowpack. He was 19 when he started working at the ski area and continued off and on until he passed away at 67. Unquestionably irreplaceable as a member of the Baker staff, Randy touched the lives of most employees and many guests in a profound way.
Randy was stoked. He taught me that that was a personal decision, not that you were predestined for one or the other.
“Randy taught me a lot. I think his influence changed my life,” said former pro patroller Zack Barrett. “He had a positive attitude every day no matter what happened around him. He would do anything for anyone at any time. You can be stoked or bummed out in your life; Randy was stoked. He taught me that that was a personal decision, not that you were predestined for one or the other.”
While Randy’s overall stoke and positive demeanor prevailed throughout his career at Baker, he also seemed to have a rare ability to sense danger and respond quickly and effectively.
Chad Kaaland, a former employee lodge cook, recalled the time that a co-worker had a seizure in the kitchen during the breakfast rush. Not wanting to scare the entire crowd of people, Chad walked calmly into the dining hall and requested ski patrol assistance.
“Maybe I asked for assistance too calmly, but no one seemed to notice much except Randy. It was like he saw in my eyes how badly I needed help; he was in the kitchen within seconds,” Kaaland said.
During his prime ski days, Randy’s instincts distinguished him as a stellar ski patroller as well. His 1997 heroic rescue of a lost teenager made headlines and was recounted in a four-page spread in Reader’s Digest. The kid got lost just outside the ski area boundary, fell down a frozen waterfall and became buried out of sight at the waterfall’s base. As the article says, Randy located the teenager on his own and led a four-hour rescue mission that involved 27 people (mostly food service employees) and moving nearly 10 tons of snow.
Over the course of the last couple of weeks I have had the pleasure of talking with many people about Randy and they’ve shared one common sentiment: he died doing what he loved, in the place he loved, with the people he loved, on one of the most beautiful days of the year – if only we could all be so lucky.
And so goes the hope that even in the wake of his passing, we may all learn from Randy and continue his legacy: drink cold beer, ski with good friends, look out for one another and stay positive even when things are tough.
Maya Hunger is a Washingtonian who likes type 2 fun and human-powered sports. Writing for various publications makes her feel like she is contributing to society while spending the majority of her time far in the backcountry.