Amy Downing’s lasting legacy

by • March 20, 2017 • Fit in the 49th, HighlightsComments (0)648

A tribute to young avalanche victim who lived for adventure

 

Amy Downing rafts in the Alaska wilderness during one of her many adventures. Downing perished in an avalanche Jan. 21, leaving behind many friends and family. Courtesy Matt Rafferty.

Amy Downing rafts in the Alaska wilderness during one of her many adventures. Downing perished in an avalanche Jan. 21, leaving behind many friends and family. Courtesy Matt Rafferty.

This past fall when Amy Downing signed onto our “Alaskans go to British Columbia in January to ski pow and soak up sunshine trip,” I was psyched. Amy had always been one of my “Alaskan-girl adventure-crushes.” You know, the type of person you know casually and want to know better? We lived in the same neighborhood and shared many mutual friends but until recently, cross-country ski racing left me little time for new people and pursuits.
Amy was the epitome of an Alaskan girl: Born and raised in Anchorage she was the valedictorian of Dimond High School, attended UAA for undergraduate and grad school, then pursued her career as an Nurse Practitioner at Alaska Native Medical Center. But perhaps more meaningful in Amy’s life was her Alaskan Adventure resume, which showcased her many outdoor passions.
Amy’s Instagram feed and Facebook pages are chock full of gorgeous powder turns, rafting expeditions and countless smiling faces. She regularly took trips to the Alaska Range for backcountry skiing, she floated remote rivers and traveled several times to the Brooks Range. For perspective, the photographic evidence of Amy’s adventures crashed the entire computer system at the memorial service, which was held at an establishment that regularly hosts weddings and celebrations of life.
In the Alaska Dispatch News article that covered Amy’s untimely death, her brother was quoted as saying, “she goes skiing in remote places as often as I go to the grocery store.” Needless to say, Amy’s life was full of adventures that most would consider “the” trip of a lifetime. Yet for Amy, those trips were the norm, not a rarity.
Family, adventure partners, co-workers, former teachers, patients, and childhood friends packed the room at Amy’s celebration of life; it was standing room only. Following the eulogy, guests were invited to get up and share stories with the crowd. Friends shared how Amy befriended those new to Alaska, immediately inviting them on her Alaskan adventures, solidifying their love of the state – and her. Amy truly was the Pied Piper of Alaskan Adventures, planning trips and bringing people from all walks of life together.

Amy Downing finds a pair of caribou antlers while adventuring in Alaska.

Amy Downing finds a pair of caribou antlers while adventuring in Alaska. Courtesy Matt Rafferty.

Amy was as brave as she was kind. If she was scared of something, she dealt with it by being drawn toward it. Another friend shared that after she tore her ACL she opted to stay awake during her surgery rather than use general anesthesia. While she was passionate about work, work was never an excuse for the inability to participate in outdoors trips. Excuses fell nowhere in Amy’s vocabulary, and I’m pretty sure that Amy packed more adventures and nights sleeping under the stars in 32 years than most accumulate in a lifetime.
My last memories of Amy from the ski lodge include her being the first one dressed for skiing, and waiting by the door for stragglers like a sled dog, desperately wanting to get on the trail. I remember her hilarious nature in our nightly group games of celebrity. She skied powder from dawn to dusk, then she spent evenings talking up and recruiting for her October trip on the Grand Canyon. Amy never stopped. She was always planning, always making it a “little too convenient” for folks to join her.
The last run I skied with Amy wasn’t really with Amy. We were in the same bowl, and I opted for an easier, quicker line off the ridge while Amy powered to the summit of the peak with the most advanced skiers in our group. I watched her ski the line beautifully, like it was no big deal, no challenge whatsoever. When she got to our group she had a huge, proud, shit-eating grin. She was happy. She was doing what she loved. Everything was grand until the last day of the trip, the last run. On Saturday, Jan. 21st Amy Downing passed away in an avalanche in British Columbia, Canada.
I will end with the closing statement of Amy’s obituary: “In lieu of flowers or gifts, consider planning an adventure in the Alaska outdoors and invite a friend to share it with. Amy would like that.” So please, don’t wait. Join me in planning your next Alaskan Adventure in Amy’s honor.

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