Durango’s Edgerly competes in Grand Traverse to remember late friend, lost in January avalanche | SummitDaily.com

Durango’s Edgerly competes in Grand Traverse to remember late friend, lost in January avalanche

Austin Colbert
The Aspen Times

In the backcountry near Crested Butte, Dominique Edgerly took a few moments to herself.

She had been skiing all night, and the sun was just beginning to break the horizon for the Grand Traverse athletes.

With her, in a way, was Abel Palmer. Competing in the popular ski-mountaineering race had been Palmer's brainchild.

In the weeks leading up to the event, the idea of backing out had certainly appealed to Edgerly, but she knew that wouldn't have sat well with her friend.

"It was a really cool moment because I had been thinking about him a lot during the race," Edgerly said. "That sunrise was so beautiful. That first alpine light and being on the top there felt so perfectly timed. I spread his ashes there and had a little moment of reflection off by myself."

It had been more than two months since Palmer's tragic death. The 27-year-old from Telluride had been one of Edgerly's close friends, and the two had been on countless adventures together. Both had called Durango home, with Edgerly working down the road at Purgatory Resort.

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Palmer was the one to convince Edgerly to give the Grand Traverse a try, and they had been training together most of December and January ahead of the March 23-24 race, where they were set to be partners.

But it was a morning in late January when Edgerly headed to work and saw Palmer's car oddly sitting in the parking lot that so much changed.

"I was getting to the mountain really early every morning because I would skin up to the top before work. I skinned up and had a really bad feeling the entire time," Edgerly recalled. "Before work I called a bunch of friends and had figured out what happened. I was so distraught I went home."

The day before, on Jan. 21, the southern mountains of Colorado had received one of their most significant storms of what had been a dry winter. Palmer, who lived for those days, ventured out into the backcountry with a friend. He had asked Edgerly to come along, but she had to work and wasn't comfortable with the conditions.

Palmer was experienced in the backcountry, but even that doesn't guarantee safety. In a section locals know as Sam's Trees, located between Red Mountain and the town of Silverton, the two friends found themselves in a gully they had been trying to avoid.

It was there the avalanche happened, and Palmer, who was farther down the gully, became the first Colorado avalanche death of 2018.

His friend survived.

"When I think about Abel, he was doing exactly the thing he loved," Edgerly said. "I don't feel angry at all. He was just doing what he wanted to do and loved doing. Within the community we live in, that's the risk we take."

Weeks would pass before Edgerly could find any peace. She slowly ventured out into the backcountry, always asking why they were out there.

The fear eventually subsided, but she still remained uncommitted to the Grand Traverse.

For a time, her partner was going to be Palmer's father, Himay, until he hurt his knee. Then Edgerly's friend, Silverton's Krista Beyer, stepped in. Both had plenty of ski touring experience, but neither were accomplished racers.

But to them, and especially to Edgerly, the Grand Traverse became about so much more than a race.

"I know Abel would not have wanted me to quit just because he was not there," Edgerly said. "It was definitely challenging, but it wasn't as challenging as we thought it was going to be.

"It was more of an enjoyable experience of going on this long adventure," she continued. "Abel would have enjoyed it so much. This was totally his kind of event and I know he was there in spirit because it was so up his alley."