In the late 1990s, Alan Dymerski was part of a team with Cache County Search and Rescue, scaling treacherous terrain with a single goal: to find and rescue people in danger.
But on one day in 1997, for the first time in all of Dymerski's years on the “hasty team,” he wasn't rescuing people; he was recovering theirbodies.
“It woke me up to the fact that we're all mortal,” said Dymerski. “Life is precious.”
This past week marked the 20th anniversary of an avalanche up Logan Dry Canyon that claimed the lives of three experienced backcountry skiers — Keith Maas, 36; Max Lyon, 38; and Karl Mueggler, 29.
Friends of the three men recently reflected on the anniversary of the fatal incident and the impact it has had on their lives.
“It's still painful,” said Tim Vitale, a friend of Maas, who was out of town this week coincidentally serving as a pallbearer for one of Maas's best friends. “It causes you to reflect on your place in the world, and, more importantly, their place in the world.”
Vitale said there was an adventurous spirit in Mass, Mueggler and Lyon that was “front and center in their lives.”
“It was a drive toward the full meaning of life and these adventurous ways,” Vitale said. “There's an adventurous spirit alive in many of us.”
Maas, Mueggler and Lyon were, by all accounts, experienced backcountry skiers. Maas was even wearing a device that would locate him in the event of an avalanche.
Jerry Hughs, the owner of GEO/Graphics, a firm based in Logan that Maas worked for at the time of his death, said he's been more careful in the backcountry himself since the 1997 avalanche tragedy.
"An avalanche can kill you in a split second, so a device isn't going to save you from anything; the only thing that will save you is using your head," Hughs said.
Maas, Mueggler and Lyon were hiking “sometime over the weekend” of Jan. 11 and 12, according to a 1997 Herald Journal article. The trio skied into Dry Canyon on Saturday expecting to be back by Monday night at the latest.
Lyon's family contacted the Cache County Sheriff's Office mid-day Monday, “but since the hikers were so experienced, no one worried until it started to get dark,” according to the Herald Journal article.
Cache County Search and Rescue then dispatched a team, Dymerski said.
Dymerski, who now works in Nebraska for the U.S. Forest Service, was among a few people on the team tasked with finding these missing men.
“At the time, we didn't know it was an avalanche, just a missing, overdue party,” said Dymerski, who noted he had been skiing in the same area around the time of the avalanche. “We talked about what we had seen when we were skiing and tried to theorize where they might be. We knew they had an objective to ski the Razorback Ridge.”
Dymerski recalls the search team thinking the men were, in fact, alive.
“We thought, 'These guys are tough, they're going to be drinking tea,'” he said. “That led to the disbelief this would not be happening to these guys.”
Once the search got underway, one member of the team noticed there had been an avalanche, so everyone switched their transceivers to “receive,” Dymerski said. Transceivers are often worn by sportsmen so in the event of an avalanche, they can be found buried in the snow by a signal.
The search team's transceivers picked up Maas's beacon.
“It's the only reason we had found him that night,” Dymerski said.
The men were found under several feet of snow on Jan. 13 around 11:30 p.m., along Razorback Ridge, about 5 or 6 miles east of Logan's Cliffside area in Dry Canyon, according to the 1997 report from The Herald Journal.
Maas was rolled up in a tent the men were likely sleeping in, Dymerski said, and the other two men were not far from him.
Dymerski and the search team had to build a fire and stay in the area overnight until transportation for the bodies could be arranged.
Taking the bodies down by hand out of Dry Canyon “was pretty somber,” Dymerski said. “It changed my life forever.”
After the team carried the bodies down the mountain by hand and got them to authorities, Dymerski and friends went skiing “without going to sleep.”
“I guess it was a way of coping at the time,” he said.
Maas graduated with honors from USU in 1982 with a degree from the landscape architecture and environmental planning department. He was a partner at the firm GEO/Graphics in Logan.
“He took us to another level,” Hughs said. “He steered us in the direction we followed from that point. He was also just a real nice, very intelligent guy.”
Called an “exceptional athlete” in a 1997 Herald Journal obituary, Maas was a skier, rock climber, mountaineer and kayaker.
Vitale met Maas years ago while hiking and skiing. He recalled Maas left a file in his office explaining his love for the outdoors in the event that he might pass away.
“It said, 'If you're reading this, it means something has happened to me,'” Vitale said. “'I thought I'd put into words what this life of adventure has meant for me. Know my life was made more full by pursuing these acts of adventure.'”
Lyon was born and raised in Logan. Jeff Keller, owner of Sunrise Cyclery in Logan, was a childhood friend of Lyon's, living in Logan's Island neighborhood. Keller and Lyon went to the same schools in Cache Valley and shared outdoor adventures together.
“He was cautious but fun,” Keller said, laughing. “He was a go-er, he was strong. We had a good time.”
Lyons graduated with a degree in geology in 1980 from a college in Minnesota.
He was director of outdoor education at Chadwick School in California — where he taught with Mueggler.
Keller and Lyon lost touch in their adult years, but reconnected during a ski trip to Beaver Mountain just weeks before the fatal avalanche.
Keller never could have predicted the incident that claimed Lyon's life.
“I think they were pretty smart guys about what's going on, but didn't predict that," Keller said. "It's so sad to see three men go early, but at least they were doing what they liked.”
Mueggler's 1997 obituary in The Herald Journal did not shed any information about his life, other than the cause of his death. But what is known is that Mueggler, like Lyon, was also an instructor at Chadwick School, according to an article about a memorial at USU honoring the three men who died in the avalanche.
The article quotes Nate Reynolds, who worked at Chadwick School, with Mueggler and Lyon.
“The kids are just devastated,” Reynolds said, referring to students at Chadwick School. “I've been doing this for 42 years and I've never met two outdoor education instructors with … the skills, the integrity, the character, the value system that these guys had.”
Twenty years later, the legacy of the three men still lives on, with the Maas, Mueggler and Lyon Outdoor Leadership Scholarship at Utah State University. The scholarship, under USU's Campus Recreation Office, helps students pay for their wilderness first-responder certificate course.
Students who want the scholarship must write personal essays about leadership and their plans to be good stewards of the environment.
The most recent addition of USU's alumni magazine shared two essays from 2016's scholarship-winning crop of students.
“My first responsibility as an outdoor leader is to insure the safety of myself and participants,” wrote J. Leland Rasmussen. “A trip leader has a profound impact on the morale of a group. In times of sunshine and catastrophe … a trip leader must be prepared for all situations.”