Wednesday, November 17, 2004

A building to remember Jason Harper

Site at Bogus Basin salutes lost adventurer

Jason Harper, who didn't like being photographed, gives the evil eye to his sister Jennifer, who was behind the camera at Big Sky, Mt. Courtesy photo

Jason Harper packed a lifetime of skiing and climbing adventure into his 27 years.

Now, his family will honor Jason's memory by building a new training center at Boise's Bogus Basin Mountain Resort north of the city.

In early May Harper was presumed dead after he attempted to climb and ski, solo, the 16,237-foot Mt. Sanford in the northern portion of Alaska's Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. An extensive search was finally called off.

"They never found Jason," said Jason's sister Jennifer Harper, a Ketchum resident for the past 12 years.

The Harper family, from Boise but with long ties to the Sun Valley area, subsequently worked with the Bogus Basin Ski Racing Alliance and decided to build a permanent training facility at the Boise ski area, in Jason's memory.

Named the Jason Harper Training Center, the 2,500-square-foot building located near Pioneer Lodge at Bogus Basin is designed for BBSRA's athletes, staff members and equipment. It will be designed for future expansion.

Hopefully, the building will go up in the spring of 2005, Jennifer Harper said. Her family provided an initial donation of $60,000 toward the building project, which is expected to cost in excess of $100,000.

More money for the Harper Training Center will be raised Friday, Nov. 19 during the 10th annual BBSRA Winter Welcome dinner and auction, starting at 6 p.m. Friday at the Grove Hotel in Boise.

"We piggy-backed on the Ski Racing Alliance's annual fund-raiser to raise money for the training center," said Jennifer Harper. "Our family donated a golf trip to The Boulders in Carefree, Arizona. We also got a Galena Lodge yurt trip for seven people and a Sun Valley gift package."

All money from these items will go specifically to the Harper Training Center. Contributions may be sent to The Bogus Basin Ski Racing Alliance, 1602 West Hays, Suite 304, Boise, ID 83702. Or call BBSRA spokesperson Carma Burnett-Carew at 208-336-5295 ext. 101, e-mail

The three Harper children grew up in Boise and all graduated from Boise High School, Jason doing so in 1994.

Jason, who would have been 28 in June, grew up in the Bogus Basin youth ski racing program and eventually became a ski coach there and elsewhere, including at Mt. Alyeska.

He started skiing at the age of two, and began Mitey Mites racing at age six. At age 13, Jason attended Telluride Ski Academy where he also learned snow camping, rock climbing and snowboarding.

"I have dedicated most of my life to skiing and ski mountaineering," Jason wrote in his resume. "It has taken me all over the world. Now as I grow and seek new challenges, ski guiding is the logical path to take."

Jason, his brother Doug, 30, a McCall resident, and 34-year-old Jennifer all life-guarded at the Elkhorn pool in the mid 1990s. Jason also delivered pizzas for Smoky Mountain Pizza and was known around town for sleeping on top of his Subaru, where he kept his kayak and his skis. Jason usually slept in a tent wherever he was.

Two years ago, he was a volunteer for the Western Region Alpine Spring Series junior ski races at Sun Valley.

The young man worked construction in the summer at Nantucket and brother Doug to earn money for his skiing and mountaineering pursuits, including trips to European ski resorts and ascents of peaks in the Chilean and Argentine Alps, plus the French Alps.

Jennifer Harper, who played golf at Oregon State University graduating in 1992 with degrees in sociology and communications, moved to Sun Valley where she has become well known as one of the best women golfers in the resort.

She is a widely-employed babysitter in town and runs a kids' camp at The Valley Club in the summer. In the winter, she works at Galena Lodge.

Her father, Doug Harper, is a semi-retired Boise insuranceman and her mother Teddie is a homemaker and an excellent golfer in her own right. The family grew up playing golf at Crane Creek in Boise.

The family endured some of their worst days in early May.

The disappearance

Jason Harper, a committed ski mountaineer, spent his last two months living in a tent at Valdez, Alaska. He was hanging out and skiing with Danny VanDerMeulen, a skier from Hailey who is based in Valdez.

Determined to add Mt. Sanford to his impressive list of peaks, Harper tried to enlist partners for a trip over the glacier. There were no takers. VanDerMeulen commented afterwards that Harper's deteremination was astounding.

But patience wasn't Harper's virtue, VanDerMeulen added. Harper wanted to make his swift ascent in unusually warm conditions.

According to a press release from the U.S. Department of the Interior, on Tuesday, May 4, Jason Harper hired an air taxi to drop him off at Windy Ridge for a climb of 16,237-foot Mt. Sanford. It's believed he established a base camp at 7,000 feet and prepared for a one-day ascent for the remaining 9,000.

When pilot Harley McMahan returned to pick up Harper at the appointed time on Sunday, May 9, Harper didn't show up. McMahan searched the immediate area on the ground, and completed aerial searches for several days.

On Wednesday, May 12, McMahan notified the National Park Service about Harper's missing status. An immediate investigation was launched in the air and on the ground.

In the ensuing days, Alaska State Troopers, National Park Service, the Rescue Coordination Center of the Air National Guard, volunteer mountain rescue teams, and volunteer climbers joined the search.

The Harper family had planned a reunion in Salt Lake City May 12. When Jason Harper did not arrive, Jason's father Doug, and Jason's brother Doug flew up the same day to Anchorage. Jennifer stayed behind with her mother.

An extensive five-day search began.

On May 15, a Denali climbing team found a base camp Harper had made during his summit attempt. Harper made his camp, probably May 4, in a snow shelter built by a climbing party several weeks before.

He left most of his camping gear secured in the snow shelter, and headed up the mountain in a presumed fast, light, one-day summit attempt.

Harper carried an ice axe, crampons, 40 meters of rope, shovel, skis and other gear. He didn't return. The snow shelter then collapsed, making it undetectable from the air.

With weather deteriorating, Sunday, May 16, was the last day of intensive searching; it had been 12 days since Jason was last seen. Harper's father and brother flew home.

Searchers speculated that Harper fell into a crevasse, perhaps after attempting to cross an ice bridge, which then collapsed.

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