Matt Krane: Remembering Andrea Mead Lawrence
April 21, 2009
Two of the first people I met upon moving to Mammoth Lakes, Calif in the fall of ’77 were Matt and Corty Lawrence. Phenomenal skiers, they lived in “the meadow house” in Old Mammoth, a solitary old white stick-frame structure with red trim. It sat on a rise overlooking an ocean of meadow, Mammoth Crest to the west, the Sherwin crest to the south, the White Mountains to the east.
First time I met their mother, three-time Olympian and environmental activist Andrea Mead Lawrence, she’d come to the meadow house to check on her son Matt, whose knee had come face-to-face with a chain saw during wood gathering. She wore an oversized wool sheepskin vest, walked with a hint of swagger, and boasted a hearty husky voice. She’d brought wine.
I knew she was the only U.S. alpine skier to win two gold medals in the same Olympics, that she lived in Mammoth, but not that she’d brought up her five children as a single mother there. The homestead was further out, in “the dunes” ” ski-in ski-out. The moon rose early that evening, an Ansel Adams moment: subtle light, mountains defining sky, stillness, Andrea Lawrence’s world.
I remember the archival footage of Andrea’s second slalom run in the ’52 Winter Games in Oslo ” she made up all the time lost in the first run after missing a gate. In her book “A Practice of Mountains,” she recalls “an amazing clarity and purpose” of that moment in the starting gate, allowing her to ski faster than she ever thought possible.
Ms. Lawrence had recently formed Friends of Mammoth, an environmental action group which fought an impending eight-story condominium complex. The case reached the State Supreme Court, whose ruling laid the groundwork for citizen enforcement of the California Environmental Quality Act. She helped found the Sierra Nevada Alliance, a regional environmental protection group, and most recently ALIMAR-the Andrea Lawrence Institute for Mountains and Rivers whose mission statement calls for a balance between economic growth and natural preservation.
As an 18-year member of the Mono County Board of Supervisors, Andrea fought unchecked growth and development, testified before Congress on behalf of the environment, several wilderness bills, and protection measures. She was one incredibly busy woman, not content to rest on her laurels, but intent on building upon her momentum.
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The next time I saw Andrea Lawrence, we were sharing a gondola ride to the top of Mammoth Mountain on a windy bluebird afternoon. “Where are you headed?” I asked. “How about the Paranoids?” she offered, more of an invitation than a suggestion. The wind rocked our car 200 feet over Climax just before the top station. I was admiring her trademark sheepskin vest when I noticed she had no poles!
Skiing along Mammoth’s top ridge, we looked right into The Minarets, the craggy vertical sawtooths that separate Mammoth basin from Yosemite. The Paranoids are like two of Peak 7’s Magic Carpet: steep, treeless, wind-loaded, a thousand vertical. I hung back just to watch Andrea Lawrence ski. Without poles she soared. I was lost in her experience. I realized then that Andrea was born from mountains, not just living among them.
No matter what was going on or who was in the room, you had her complete attention when talking with Andrea. She genuinely wanted to know your thoughts. You never forgot she was mother, friend, politician, friend to the earth. Her presence and enthusiasm for life was infectious. Battling brain cancer for nine years, she’s gone now, but her energy lives on in the Sierra and every mountain community.
It’s been years since the meadow house was razed to make way for a church. A golf course inhabits the meadow now, but the Sherwin Crest still dominates the landscape. I still remember my first spring hike/ski up there: Andrea Lawrence’s backyard.
Two Sundays ago, I lapped Snow White three times: a week of snow but the sun broke through to reveal thigh deep vertical. I dedicated those laps to Andrea Lawrence. She was partly responsible for my being there, for making the best turns of my season.