Benny’s World: Locals remember avalanche victim’s spirit, passion for life in Tahoe
OLYMPIC VALLEY – Whether he was charging down a powder-blanketed backcountry ski run, mastering a complex rock climb or simply having that wonderful ability to make people laugh, Benjamin Brackett will be remembered as an amazing person who held an infectious and perhaps unparalleled spirit for life and adventure in the Sierra Nevada.
“He just flowed down the mountain in such a smooth way. He had such beautiful, beautiful turns – he was one of the prettiest skiers I’ve ever seen,” recalled friend Jon Rockwood. “He was a professional, and he had a great level of respect and knowledge for the mountain. He wasn’t a daredevil or anything like that. He was a pro.”
Brackett – the Squaw Valley skier known by many of his friends and locals as “Benny” – died from injuries suffered in an avalanche last Thursday afternoon off Stanford Rock, near Ward Canyon. He was 29.
According to a report of the incident from the Sierra Avalanche Center, Brackett and friends Rockwood and Jehren Boehm had skinned up a slope. As Brackett began to ski down, he triggered an avalanche about one foot deep and grabbed onto a tree to stop him from being swept away. But the slide dropped deeper, pulling him about 300 feet down the slope, the report said.
Rockwood and Boehm skied down and used their avalanche beacons to locate him in about 3 feet of snow. After they un-buried Brackett, Rockwood stayed with his friend while Boehm skied out of the rugged area for help. After a more-than two-hour search and rescue mission conducted by Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue, Placer County Sheriff’s Office and North Tahoe Fire Protection District, Brackett was transported to Tahoe Forest Hospital in Truckee, where he was later pronounced dead from severe trauma.
For Rockwood, who had been skiing partners with Brackett since 2009, it was especially tough news to bear.
“There’s a certain bond you form when you’re out backcountry skiing, or just in the outdoors in general, with someone for so long. It’s quality time, you really get to know someone,” an emotional Rockwood said this week. “I’m happy we got to be together on a very intimate level at the end. It was comforting to be there .
“We had some good conversations; we got to exchange a lot of statements of admiration for each other, a lot of thanks. He cracked a few smiles, his eyes were wide, those big green eyes … he wasn’t in pain. He had almost a relaxed glow to him.”
Brackett was born in Baton Rouge, La., on Oct. 22, 1982; he grew up in Keene, N.H. In 2001, he graduated from Keene High School, where he excelled in Nordic skiing, swimming and track and cross-country. He majored in English at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire, graduating in 2006.
Prior to moving to Tahoe in 2007, friends said Benny also enjoyed working with his father, who owns a geology company in New Hampshire.
The man’s life was one filled with countless amounts of positive energy, tremendous outdoor adventure accomplishments and a slew of funny, feel-good stories, said friend Matt Nutt, who had known Benny since 2007.
“The motivation he had to be an avid skier was pretty infectious. He completely embraced it, and he motivated me. He’s a role model. He was always willing to go out there and get it,” Nutt said.
He later laughed when asked to share a funny story about Benny.
“He left us with a bunch of memories; he always had that big smile on his face,” Nutt said. “He was a goofball, and he always kept things a little weird.”
Rom Marcucci was one of Benny’s closest friends. He knew him since his early college years, and also couldn’t help but chuckle when asked about how people will remember the man.
“He really took good advantage of the opportunities around him … he was fun as hell and so reliable. He was always down for anything,” said Marcucci, who had lived with Benny until last winter. “A lot of people in Tahoe, they get bummed out after awhile about being a ski bum, but he … loved it. He was definitely very psyched on life in Tahoe.”
Besides his passion for winter sports, Brackett was also very much into rock climbing and other outdoor adventures. Each fall, Brackett and other local and friends from college would gather for what they called “Rocktober,” recalled Aaron Finley, another of Benny’s closest friends.
“Yosemite and Red Rock were definitely two of his favorite places to climb,” said Finley, who moved out to Tahoe with Benny and Marcucci, the trio living together for years in Squaw.
Of course, one of Benny’s most epic accomplishments occurred last spring, Finley said, when he spent 19 days above 14,000 feet, skiing the West Buttress of Denali in Alaska.
“It was definitely the most triumphant moment of his life,” Finley said. “When he came back, he had such a ferocious energy to just get after it. He wanted to climb things he’s never climbed before, ski places he’s never skied before.
“He lived to go out on that next big adventure.”
When he wasn’t skiing or rock climbing or enjoying the outdoor opportunities Tahoe/Truckee affords for so many, Brackett worked hard as a river guide during summers on the Truckee, and as a bartender during winters at High Camp at Squaw.
“Ben Brackett was a valued member of Squaw’s culinary team since 2008 who had a smile and a friendly word for all his co-workers and our guests,” the resort said in a statement. “Our heartfelt condolences go out to his family and friends. He will be truly missed by his friends, family and team members here at Squaw.”
And while the memories and funny stories from friends and family will last forever, one thing those who loved Benny closely want everyone to remember was not only his passion for the ski slopes, but also his great awareness for being safe while enjoying himself on them.
“A lot of people out there who didn’t know Benny may look at what happened and say he was a loose cannon, or reckless, but it couldn’t be further from the truth,” Marcucci said. “Benny was super safe and super responsible. He was a completely responsible skiing partner.
“I’m just so bummed he’s gone.”
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After a period of dry, warm weather, winter returns this week to Lake Tahoe.