A pure soul with a bright smile: Summit County community members reminisce on the life and impact of Silverthorne’s Tyler James Updegraff

Tyler James Updegraff died on Thursday, Jan. 26 after being involved in a skiing accident at Aspen Snowmass Ski Resort. Updegraff was known for being a pure soul with a bright smile. Updegraff had an impact on the youth of Summit County.
Brad Hanshaw/Courtesy photo

Silverthorne resident Tyler James Updegraff, 27, died on Thursday, Jan. 26, after being involved in a skiing accident at Aspen Snowmass Ski Resort. 

During his time in Summit County, Updegraff made a huge impact on the community. He was a running back and special teams coach with the Summit High School football team, a mentor to Summit County youth, an outdoorsman, a cook and a friend with a smile that could light up anybody’s day. 

“His smile was so bright and impactful,” former Summit High School student and running back Aidan Collins said. “Every single time I saw him smile it would make my day a million times better.”

“He was really authentic to himself,” said Brad Hanshaw, Tyler’s roommate and close friend. “If he was trying to get you better at something it was because he was doing it himself. He always lived up to what he was preaching. The time he invested in the youth was incredible to see and inspiring.”

On Thursday, Jan. 26, Updegraff was spending the day skiing at Aspen Snowmass with Hanshaw. The two were lifelong friends, growing up alongside each other in Pennsylvania.

Updegraff and Hanshaw were exploring the Makaha Terrain Park at Snowmass Ski Area when Updegraff was involved in a crash.

According to reporting by The Aspen Times, Snowmass ski patrol received a report of the crash at 2:24 p.m., found Updegraff unresponsive and began lifesaving measures that continued while they transported him to the Snowmass Clinic. 

He was later pronounced dead at the clinic. Skico reported that Updegraff was wearing a helmet and skiing with others at the time of the crash, which happened in the landing zone of the park’s first jump.

Hanshaw knew Updegraff throughout his time growing up in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, but it wasn’t until Hanshaw’s junior year and Updegraff’s senior year at Cumberland Valley High School that the two became close friends.

“We went to high school together, but we didn’t start to become close until my junior year and his senior year of high school through football,” Hanshaw said. “He was one of those seniors on the team. A leader and someone to look up to.”

After graduating from Cumberland Valley High School in 2014, Updegraff attended Drake University in Iowa as a member of the university’s football team. 

While manning the running back position, Updegraff recorded 458 yards and four touchdowns with his final season in 2017 — his biggest season at Drake. 

Tyler Updegraff attended Drake University as a member of the university’s football program. After redshirting his freshman year, Updegraff played three seasons as a running back for Drake University.
Brad Hanshaw/Courtesy photo

Hanshaw says that while he was finishing out high school he always stayed in touch with Updegraff while he was at Drake. 

“We stayed in touch and I would see him on breaks,” Hanshaw said. “We always grew up skiing and loving the outdoors where we grew up, hiking through the woods and being outside.”

After graduating high school, Hanshaw says he moved to Denver with his brother. During Updegraff’s 2016 college spring break, Updegraff made a visit to see Hanshaw in Colorado. 

“We got to talking one night and we both talked about how much we loved it there,” Hanshaw said. “We decided that maybe someday we can try to live here together. It was kind of something you talk about, you don’t really think about.”

Updegraff graduated from Drake in 2018 with a degree in business administration and made the move to Summit County a little over a year later. Within the next year, Updegraff’s and Hanshaw’s talk came to fruition when Hanshaw moved in with Updegraff. 

“It was crazy that it became a true thing,” Hanshaw said. “It was awesome, a great experience. The memories and relationships you build while living with one of your best friends is incredible.”

Updegraff’s impact went well beyond the deep memories and friendship he built with Hanshaw and other close friends in Summit County. 

He also played an integral role in mentoring the county’s youth, teaching a class at the middle school and high school, working with the Summit High School football team, serving as a strength and conditioning coach at the high school, and being the program director with Mountain Mentors — a mentorship program that matches adult volunteers with kids.

“He is so nice to these kids,” fellow coach Eric Ramsey said. “… You felt comfortable right away with him. You could tell this is a genuinely good guy. Tyler was an instrumental part of changing the culture and outlook of the (Summit High School football) team.”

Hanshaw also coached for the Summit football team, and he viewed it as an honor to return under the lights of the football field with Updegraff — this time as coaches instead of teammates. 

Updegraff would often talk openly to Hanshaw about his work with Mountain Mentors, displaying his passion for the job.

“He ran the teen center once or twice a week. He would spend extra hours at night watching those kids and hanging out with them,” Hanshaw said. “He put together activities that those kids could go enjoy and forget about their hardships in life.”

Ultimately, Updegraff was known as a selfless person who would stop at nothing to brighten the lives of others. 

“Tyler was an incredible leader, he was a pure soul,” Hanshaw said. “He knew investing in our youth was something that would better our world and make it a better place.”

Hanshaw says he will never forget the adventures in the outdoors he and Updegraff shared after high school. Whether it was camping, hiking, skiing or climbing, Hanshaw has fond memories of following Updegraff’s bright, excited smile around while out exploring the outdoors.

“Being able to see Tyler’s smile and enjoying the day,” Hanshaw said as he talked about his favorite memories of Updegraff. “Whether it be a blizzard or a blue sky day, him just turning around and seeing that smile and that light in his eyes.”

Tyler Updegraff poses for a photo while standing on a rock in the middle of a river. Updegraff enjoyed the outdoors whether it was skiing, hiking or running.
Brad Hanshaw/Courtesy photo

Funeral and memorial service details have yet to be released, but a GoFundMe page  has been made in Updegraff’s name in order to help cover funeral costs. Updegraff is survived by his parents, Karen and Mickey, his brother Luke, and countless friends.

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