in memoriam: Steve Romeo and Chris Onufer

By Jim Stanford on March 11, 2012

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Steve Romeo and Chris Onufer after skiing Teepe Pillar on one of their first backcountry adventures in the Tetons, winter 1996-97. Steve was using alpine trekker bindings, while Chris wore leather tele boots. Photo by Reed Finlay.

A wave came crashing like a fist to the jaw
Delivered him wings, ‘Hey, look at me now’

~ Pearl Jam, Given to Fly

A public memorial service for ski mountaineers Steve Romeo and Chris Onufer will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the outdoor plaza at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. A reception will follow afterward at the Mangy Moose.

Romeo, 40, and Onufer, 42, died in an avalanche March 7 in Grand Teton National Park. They were ascending Ranger Peak when the slide occurred.

So much has been written about these two in recent days, and the loss so devastating, that it’s hard for me to add much. I had known both since we worked on the mountain at JHMR in the mid-1990s, me as a photographer and them running the lifts. When I started guiding whitewater on the Snake, Steve was a photographer in the canyon before joining the staff of Skinny Skis.

As I wrote back in 2010, Chris and I were friendly rivals in the PPP. On a cold, chaotic morning, when one of my friends had his skis run over in the parking lot and I discovered my bike had a flat rear tire, Chris dropped everything and fixed the flat. He could have proceeded to the start and concentrated on his own gear, but that’s not the kind of competitor he was. And he was always tough to catch. During the race, he, too, got a flat before leaving Teton Village, but others stopped to help him, and he still managed to beat me by a minute.

It was impressive to watch over the years as Chris and Steve transformed themselves from hard-partying lifties to hard men of the mountains.

Romeo's coverage of skiing the Grand Teton was groundbreaking. Here Onufer climbs the Stettner Couloir on the way up. Steve skied the peak four times.

Just as impressive was Steve’s foray into journalism with Teton AT. With little to no training or experience or web expertise, he became one of the ski industry’s preeminent bloggers. Teton AT had more than a million page views last year; the recent post on the Taylor Mountain avalanche garnered 25,000 views. Some of the biggest brouhahas involving the mountains originated on Steve’s pages, including the infamous photos of the Headwall avalanche in 2008.

He had a knack for digging up stories, beating other journalists to the punch, and provoking discussion. The website caused some grumbling in Jackson Hole, as old-timers bristled at the exposé of Teton park skiing, but there was no denying Steve wrote from the heart, his infectious enthusiasm dripping from each post. Along with David Gonzales of The Snaz, he started the Jackson blogosphere and helped transform the media landscape, offering much support to this site in the process.

I will miss his energy and enthusiasm, the friendly competition and cooperation, him running around like a spaz at Avalanche Awareness Night. I will miss stopping in at Moosely Seconds between rafting trips and rubbing in how much I love summer. I will miss getting the latest ski mountaineering news at Teton AT, and I will miss Chris each year at the start of the PPP.

These were two men who followed their passion to great heights before it finally consumed them. Let’s take inspiration from their example and also learn from it, and Live to Ski many more days in the Tetons.

And sometimes is seen a strange spot in the sky
A human being that was given to fly
~

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Posted under Deaths, Media, Sports

6 Comments so far

  1. Chris March 11, 2012 9:59 pm

    Well stated, Jim. Thanks for sharing. The Outside interview is a very poignant read. Those two will be sorely missed for some time to come. Live to ski…another day.

  2. Karen March 12, 2012 6:18 am

    Elegiac Jim. Thank you.
    Karen Langenberg

  3. Hollis Brooks March 12, 2012 7:17 am

    I still can’t believe this news. I am still certain that I will see one or both of them on my next visit. Super bummed and wishing I could be out there with you guys re-hashing some epic stories. I was around for one of those “On-the-fire” evenings with Chris back in the mid-90′s and I cannot tell you how hard I laughed out loud while thinking about it. So damn sad.

  4. morrison simms March 13, 2012 5:01 pm

    As a close friend of Chris Kroger, I have nothing but respect for Steve Romeo and his Rondenez racing skills.

  5. penny March 14, 2012 8:38 pm

    Jim,your words have brought it home..no more Steve. As a summer person too, I would torment him with ‘retail therapy’ for the backcountry in Moosely Seconds. There is not much I have that I didn’t beg steal or borrow from Steve Romeo and I take with me into the Tetons or the Winds, and that SMILE, oh my, that smile would send you into the coldest canyon with the warmest heart. Thanks Steve, the gear, the advice and most of all the kindness and the smile. You will always be here, we just wont be able to see you.

  6. js March 15, 2012 10:17 am

    The memorial service at Teton Village was a fitting tribute, with a pair of crossed skis in the tram door above the plaza. Brothers Al and Mike Webb painted a picture of Onufer as a consummate outdoorsman who loved fishing in summer. When it came to adventures, Al said, “Chris never did three things: never said no, never went halfway and never stopped chasing the dream.”
    Speaking about Romeo, Reed Finlay shared a line someone had told him that hanging out with Steve was like a 12-year-old having his first beer. “It really starts to feel fun fast,” Reed said.
    More on the memorial can be found here: http://bit.ly/xf44Se

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