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Widefield grad and pioneering ski guide dies after freak fall in Alaska

September 25, 2012
photo - Theo Meiners, in Anchorage last week at the International Snow Science Workshop. Photo by Courtesy of Backcountry Access
Theo Meiners, in Anchorage last week at the International Snow Science Workshop. Photo by Courtesy of Backcountry Access 

Even among the world’s hungriest powderhounds, Theo Meiners loomed larger than life.

He relished first tracks and epic downhills and turned that passion into a profession, becoming a pioneering backcountry skier and internationally known heli-skiing guide.

Meiners, 59, a Colorado native and a graduate of Widefield High School, died late Thursday in a freak accident in Anchorage, Alaska.

He owned and operated Alaska Rendezvous Heli-Guides near Valdez and lived most of the year in Alaska, said his sister Lori Muehlbauer, of Colorado Springs. When he wasn’t there he lived and guided skiers in Jackson Hole, Wyo., or was exploring the world.

Meiners fell more than 30 feet to his death from an escalator at the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center, site of the International Snow Science Workshop, Anchorage Police Department spokeswoman Marlene Lammers said.

Initial reports stated Meiners had attempted to ride the escalator's handrail, but police told family members Monday they are still investigating the incident.

Images in the security video in the convention center are unclear, police told family members. Meiners died at the scene.

If it turns out Meiners was attempting to ride the handrail, it would not be out of character, Muehlbauer said. It would have been an impulse move because he was enjoying the week.

“He was happy. He was with friends,” said Muehlbauer.

The conference, a gathering of snow scientists and avalanche experts, is held every two years. Meiners had been a presenter at the convention and was with several other workshop attendees at the time of the accident.

David Hamre, chairman of the workshop, said in a written statement that Meiners died “after attending an event involving hundreds of his comrades in the avalanche research, snow science, and ski guiding communities. I would like to express our deep sadness and sense of loss at the death of one of our own.”

Meiners spent much of his childhood in the Rocky Mountains and knew early on that he wanted a life among the world’s deepest powder and highest peaks. He enrolled at Western State but left after a semester, saying he would “learn more about the world by being out in it,” Muehlbauer said.

He flew to Switzerland, where he told his parents he’d spend the winter skiing. “But he didn’t come back for a year,” his sister said.

That set the scene for a grand life: skiing Europe, working on a boat in the Caribbean, guiding skiers in Aspen, Jackson Hole, Alaska, Chile and Argentina. He visited Chile every summer for nearly 20 years, guiding ski trips and training the national ski patrol. He had worked as an instructor and guide in Jackson Hole every winter since 1978.

Jerry Blann, president of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, said Meiners was a mentor to entire families of skiers as well as to young guides.

“He brought skill and experience when both teaching and guiding, and, just as important, he brought enthusiasm and passion to everything that involved his true loves, the mountains and skiing,” Blann said. “He will be missed.”

Meiners moved to Aspen when he was about 20 and spent five or six years working as a ski instructor there and exploring the backcountry, often with brother Mike. They were climbing North Maroon Peak when Meiners fell - and survived. “That place is named after him, Miner’s Leap,” Muehlbauer said.

“Theo was one of the most enthusiastic people on the planet. His enthusiasm was contagious. If you’ve ever done anything with Theo, you were touched by it,” said Bob Comey, director of the Bridger Teton Avalanche Center. “There are thousands of people in this world that he affected.”

Meiners’s daughter, Alex, was general manager of the heli-ski business and his son, Aidan, was a guide.

After a few lean years, business had picked up with last season’s massive snowfall and bookings were up for this season and next.

“He said it was the most perfect winter in his life,” Muehlbauer said.

Her son, Mike, 21, spent part of the summer in Alaska with his uncle “Teddy” and cousin Aidan. They’d expanded the dining area at the guest lodge and poured the foundation for house to replace the tiny cabin Meiners lived in.

After the job was done, Meiners flew to Chile to work with the ski patrollers and was planning to visit Colorado Springs after the conference in Anchorage.

“He had been so happy,” Muehlbauer said. "He kept saying what a great year it had been."

Mike Meiners and some of Theo Meiners’ friends flew to Alaska over the weekend to help Aidan and Alex Meiners make funeral arrangements and lock up the lodge for the deep winter - better to keep hungry bears and early snow out.

Meiners was a man who loved life and embraced each day, the kind of guy who’d hear about your dreams and encourage you to reach for them.

“There was never a single thing he thought he couldn’t do,” Muehlbauer said. “He didn’t say, ‘Oh, I don’t have the money for that,’ or ‘I can’t make time for that.’ If he wanted to do something, he made it happen. For him, there was always a way.”

Family members told friends in Alaska that an avalanche awareness fund would be created in Meiners' name.

Meiners is survived by his children, Alex and Aidan of Jackson Hole; sisters Lori Muehlbauer, of Colorado Springs, and Penny Jo Hauserman, of Junction City, Kan.; brother Michael Meiners, of Carbondale, and six nieces and nephews.

And thousands of around the globe.

"If you met him once, you'd remember him," Muehlbauer said. "And if you met him once, you were his friend."

- The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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