The Man Behind the Mountain | Letters to the Editor | Bend | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

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Opinion » Letters to the Editor

The Man Behind the Mountain

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No photo attached. That is how he would have wanted it. For years, the Mt. Bachelor ski patrol's annual team photo featured a mysterious figure in the back row. He would turn his head as the camera clicked or he would wear a ski mask. But it's hard to hide when you are the biggest, strongest one in the group. He is Gus Johnson, a ski patrol legend of the Western United States. Last week, he passed away suddenly at the age of 60. Aside from his physical presence, he was incredibly intelligent and had a cutting sense of humor. Gus was the complete package. The result of his work was safe skiing and snowboarding for anyone who has been to Bachelor over the last 19 years. Overall, he patrolled for 30 years. His influence on Mt B will go on for years to come.

Gus came to Oregon from the Midwest in the 70s. He surely left his home in Iowa because English teachers, his first career after college, are subject to skiing only on weekends and holidays. Gus was probably 6'3", 220 lbs. and very fit. He was handsome and had a tan that indicated his love of the outdoors.

Old timers from Mt. Bailey, Mt. Hood Meadows and Hoodoo remember following in his footsteps, literally. When there was work to do, he led by example. Cold temps, high winds and paralyzing fog caused the grin on his face to grow wider. Gus held a chair on the board of directors with the Association of Professional Patrollers (APP), an organization that grooms patrollers into patrol directors. Pledges from Squaw Valley, Mammoth, Crystal Mountain and all points between had to impress Gus and his peers to become certified. The APP tests knowledge in avalanches, explosives, risk management, transceiver rescue, rope rescue, toboggan rescue, mountain safety and, of course, skiing/snowboarding and first aid. An APP certified ski patroller is considered the gold standard in the industry. Johnson was our area's first. He is single-handedly responsible for the number of fully certified patrollers at Mt. Bachelor, presently.

The motto of the staff is: Professional patrol is not a title; it's an attitude. Expectations are high, and they should be. We rely on their judgment to access areas prone to avalanche. We expect our families to be promptly rescued if injured. Internally, mountain management counts on the patrol to store, transport, construct and detonate explosives. They can organize and conduct a search and rescue in an instant as they are already booted up and armed with area knowledge. The skill set and criteria for each was set by the APP and Gus Johnson.

Many of Mt. Bachelor's locals would not have known who Gus was. Some may have known him as the one who was still on straight skis as he kept about 30 extra pairs of brand new skis in his garage in case they stopped making them. He was known as Max Tanner or The FBI. He will be remembered for holding a dog-eared, loosely rolled cigar between his teeth after completing an avalanche control route. To work alongside him was the experience; the education. A brass plaque on the wall in the aid room boasts his name for excellence in a medical emergency. Otherwise, there is very little record that he had actually been there. Not even in the team photos hung in the patrol office.

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