During high school I became an instructor at Ski Acres (now Summit Central). I was PSIA certified in 1973 and competed in local freestyle skiing contests with my high school buddies, the Bonanza Bombers. In 1975, when I was living in Sun Valley, my friends set a Guinness world record at Ski Acres by performing a 16-man, hand-holding backflip on skis. A Warren Miller cameraman filmed the stunt. Most of my friends were avid freestyle skiers, but few of us competed seriously. My brother Gordy, on the other hand, was a nationally ranked competitor in the 1970s. I spent two winters teaching and ski bumming at Sun Valley during college. I eventually drifted away from ski instructing as my skiing interests turned elsewhere.
In December 1978, I graduated from the University of Washington with a Bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering (Summa Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa). I went to work for the John Fluke Manufacturing Co., Inc. (now Fluke Corporation) in 1979 and spent sixteen years there. I began my career at Fluke as an electrical design engineer but eventually moved into software development.
I met my wife Stephanie Subak at Fluke and we were married in 1983. Steph was the center of my universe for nearly 32 years, until her untimely death in a mountaineering accident in 2015. Memories from the celebration of Steph's life can be found here.
In 1995, I left Fluke to become the editor of a regional outdoor magazine. While I have enjoyed outdoor writing and photography for years, I soon realized that outdoor publishing as a career was not for me. I returned to engineering, spending five years at WRQ, Inc., a Seattle software firm. From 2001 through 2010, I was a software development consultant, alternately working on engineering contracts and outdoor writing projects (such as the Northwest Mountaineering Journal). From 2011 to 2015, I worked full-time as a software engineer for Carbon Design Group in Seattle.
While in college, I was introduced to climbing by my brother Gordy and a few of his skiing friends. Our group was mostly self-taught, and we were fortunate to avoid mishaps during our first few years as climbers. Our most memorable early trip was a one-week traverse of the northern Picket Range in the Cascades in 1974. I climbed in a pair of fifteen dollar Valu-Mart waffle stompers and slept in a homemade plastic tube tent. For a glacier rope, we carried a length of polypropylene line that Gordy had found at the Alpental ski area. Thanks (I guess) to mountain sense gained through skiing and backpacking, we completed the trip without incident.
As we became more experienced, we extended our climbing ventures throughout the Cascade Range. With partners like Mark Bebie, Gary Brill, my older brother Gordy and my younger brother Carl, I pioneered new routes on peaks such as Mesahchie (1978), Early Morning Spire (1980), Perdition (1985, with Steph), The Pyramid (1986), Forbidden (1989), Inspiration (1995), and Thunder (1998). We also made first winter ascents of Bonanza (1979), Formidable (1981), Mt Shuksan's Price Glacier (1981), and Mounts Triumph and Despair (1986). Although I have climbed throughout the western U.S. and Canada and traveled to the Alps, Andes and Himalaya, my backyard mountains in Washington remain my favorites.
In 1979, Gary Brill enticed me to take up ski touring by giving me an old pair of strap-on climbing skins. I invested in a pair of Ramer bindings and mounted them on a used pair of K2 skis from Gordy. (I was a cheapskate.) After modifying the toe wires to fit my climbing boots, I had a serviceable setup for ski mountaineering.
During the next few years we added skiing to our climbing trips on peaks such as Silver Star, Glacier, Baker and Bonanza. In 1982, with Gary Brill and two others, I made the second ski crossing of the Ptarmigan Traverse in the North Cascades. The Ptarmigan trip made a strong impression on me. I was captivated by using skis to venture into deep wilderness. Ski mountaineering seemed to combine the best of mountaineering and skiing, two sports I already loved by themselves.
With a small group of friends, but especially Jens Kieler and my brother Carl, I pioneered several hundred miles of high-level ski traverses in the North Cascades. These included the Isolation Traverse (Snowfield to Eldorado, 1983), Picket Range (1985), Thunder High Route (Rainy Pass to Eldorado, 1987), Buckindy Range (1989), Suiattle High Route (Miners Ridge to Glacier Peak, 1989), Backbone Ridge (1990), Ragged Ridge (1991), and Extended Ptarmigan Traverse (Cascade Pass to Holden, 2000). We also made pioneering ski descents on peaks such as Logan (1982), Fury (1985), Buckner (1999), Hurry Up (2002), Forbidden (2003) and Sinister (2005). After Carl died in a ski mountaineering accident, I resolved to complete a ski traverse of the Cascade Crest in his memory (2007).
In 1996, just before my fortieth birthday, Steph and I were blessed with the birth of our son, Tom. There was no need for a big birthday party for me that year, since my rite of passage was completed by his birth. Since then, I have continued skiing and mountaineering, though with less frequency than before. I find that by making time to keep fit and carefully choosing my objectives, my experiences in the mountains are as satisfying as ever, while my life overall has been enriched.
In 2000, I began researching the 100-year history of ski mountaineering in Washington with the goal of publishing the definitive book on the subject. This project repays a debt--to my father and to others of his generation--for passing on to me a legacy of wilderness and wonder in one of the most beautiful regions in America.