Published by Backcountry Magazine on April 6, 2016
by The Editors, All photo captions were written by Ville Niiranen.
It’s been 10 years since the ski world lost pioneer Doug Coombs and aspirant guide Chad VanderHam. While Coombs made a name for himself on this side of the pond, La Grave was his home for 10 years, and that’s were he was skiing along with VanderHam on April 3, 2006 when both men fell to their deaths.
To honor Coombs and VanderHam, Per “Pelle” Lang, a longtime friend of Coombs and owner of The Skiers Lodge in La Grave, organized a memorial over the weekend on the 10th anniversary of their passing.
“Pelle wanted to mark the anniversary and so [he] came up with the idea for the memorial. He contacted people overseas who needed to travel, but locally it was a word-of-mouth invitation,” says Ville Niiranen, a photographer and friend to Coombs who attended the memorial. “When the accident happened, it was a huge shock to everybody…. At the time, there was an event—there was a potluck dinner—but people kind of dealt with the loss and the grieving on their own. This event is the first time that their loss has been brought back into the public eye because of the anniversary.”
After drinks and conversation, the group who gathered skied down to where two plaques now sit near the Couloir de Polichinelle, where the accident happened. The plaques are not directly atop the couloir, but placed closer to a slope where visitors can see them and pay their respects.
IFMGA guide Miles Smart, a close friend of both Coombs and VanderHam, felt the memorial was a good opportunity to reconnect with the community that loved both skiers.
“I think that, for those of us that were really close friends with Doug and Chad, it was good to get a lot of us together again,” Smart says. “Some of us see each other all the time, but some of us haven’t seen each other since the accident. It was great to get people together in the same place in La Grave…. We told stories and shared some memories on the mountain. It was really good for everybody.”
Here are Ville Niiranen’s photos from the weekend’s memorial.