Liz Daley climbed and snowboarded some of the most challenging mountains in the Northwest, Canada and France, but she rarely talked about her accomplishments. She preferred to listen to others.
This is what most impressed Dunham Gooding, owner of Bellingham-based American Alpine Institute, where Daley was a guide and instructor.
“That’s not common,” Gooding said Wednesday. “She was not common. She was the top female extreme snowboarder, and she had no ego. She was genuinely more interested in other people than she was in herself.”
The 29-year-old from Tacoma died Monday in an avalanche in Argentina while on a ski mountaineering expedition with a crew from one of her sponsors, Eddie Bauer. She was killed while a crew filmed her descending a steep gulley on a 7,000-foot peak near Mount Fitz Roy.
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Daley’s descent triggered an avalanche that swept her into a crevasse. None of the other three people on Eddie Bauer’s snow sports team or the two members of the production crew was injured, according to multiple reports.
“She had a bright, effervescent personality,” said Gary Dennerline, Daley’s uncle. “ And she was a superstar in her sport.”
The Stadium High graduate excelled at numerous outdoor sports — rock climbing, ice climbing, mountaineering and snowboarding. But snowboarding, and more specifically the niche sport of splitboard mountaineering, is where she stood out.
Splitboards are snowboards that convert into a pair of skis, allowing users to travel into the backcountry as easily as skiers without having to haul extra gear such as snowshoes.
Using this technique, Daley was the first woman to snowboard some of the most challenging big mountain lines in the Cascades, including descents on Mount Baker, Mount Adams and Mount Rainier.
“She was certainly one of the top extreme snowboarders in the country,” said Tom Kirby, an instructor at the American Alpine Institute.
Daley’s love of snowboarding and extreme outdoor adventures started when she attended Western Washington University, Dennerline said. “These weren’t family ski trips,” he said. “It was an individual pursuit for Liz.”
Her passion turned into a career. She earned her degree in Environmental Education, and she worked as a guide. As an athlete she was sponsored by Jones Snowboards, Eddie Bauer and Patagonia, a brand that takes its name from the area where Daley died.
“Liz stood out from among many exceptional people in the guiding and pro-athlete world,” Gooding said. “She was conservative, protective of her clients and her friends, and thoroughness and excellence characterized her teaching.”
She worked for a ski patrol in Utah, guided in places such as the Cascades, Canada and Alaska. She made annual trips to Chamonix, France, where she took on the region’s famously daunting peaks. Her love of splitboard mountaineering was born during a climb on Mount Rainier.
Kirby worked alongside Daley and said her personality was contagious. Even on days when they couldn’t climb high enough to get above the Cascades’ famous gray, wet weather.
“You’re on day six of a course in nasty weather in the Cascades, and you wake up a little cold, and you aren’t looking forward to another day in the rain and clouds,” Kirby said. “But Liz could turn those days into a blast.”
Daley’s death is the latest blow in what has been a devastating year for Washington’s climbing community.
In February, noted Seattle climber Chad Kellogg was killed by rock fall, also in Argentina. In April, five Sherpa guides for Seattle’s Alpine Ascents International were among 16 killed by an avalanche on Mount Everest. And in June a six-person party guided by Alpine Ascents perished on Mount Rainier.