Joel Thomas Shute was born to Steve and Lisa in Glenwood Springs on Friday the 13th, March 1987. He grew up in the mountains in Oak Meadows and on the Western Slope. When still in diapers, he jumped out of the backpack and hiked most of the trail to Hanging Lake, then first skied at Sunlight before his second birthday. Biking in Moab, first fourteener at age 10 and later Mt. Rainier; kayaking and raft guiding through Shoshone then much of the Snake rivers, the mile‐wide whitewater of great Slave River in the Yukon, and the entire Grand Canyon… this was a serious mountain man from almost his first breath.
Joel earned a degree in Environmental Science at CU Boulder while still getting in his 50 days of skiing. He graduated in the wake of the Great Recession with no “career” tracks out there, but leveraged his degree into a number of magical jobs: salmon research on the Copper River in Alaska; tracking California condors released over the Grand Canyon; botany on San Clemente Island off San Diego’s bay (and joined in on the Seals celebration when they got bin Laden); rock climbing at Joshua Tree; a season of ski bumming in Crested Butte; a USGS baseline morphology and botany study of many of the small tributaries to the Green and Colorado rivers; then several years of arborist work and USFS research and kayak guiding (and skiing and snowmobiling to ski further out) in Girdwood, Anchorage, Glenallen and Valdez, Alaska.
On the day of the Total Eclipse in 2017, Joel moved back from Alaska to Glenwood Springs in his unique ambulance‐RV, back-roads conversion, “Jambo.” He joined his dad, Steve, in managing a group of tiny rural gas distribution utilities. He soon earned his pilot’s license and flew Cessnas with his father and friends to dozens of work and recreation spots. Joel became a seasoned expert in managing long‐term customer and pipeline data, GIS mapping and utility operations, and especially gas pipeline safety.
Joel also had an artistic side. He assisted his mom, Lisa, in filming and producing a biographical film about Earl Biss, a famous Crow artist, with scenes of tribal lands in Montana. He shot many videos of backcountry skiing and other adventures. He had a large collection of stringed instruments and loved to play and sing.
Joel shared a birthday with World Cup skier Mikaela Shiffrin. He noted that she was a great skier through “Gates on Ice,” but that he preferred “Pow through Trees” … and Miki wasn’t toting a beloved mountain pooch named Bombadil with one hand, while skiing in the backcountry.
We celebrated his birthday on Monday with a large group of friends, and on Friday he was gone. On March 17, Joel and a couple of veteran local skiers were caught in a late‐season avalanche near Chair Mountain outside of Marble. The other two were injured but got out.
Joel lived an adventure‐filled life. Left to savor their shared slice were his life partner, Ela Jaszczak; his brother, Aaron, at the family farm near Red Cloud, Nevada; parents, Steve and Jan of Glenwood Springs and Lisa and Tom Boston of Louisville; grandparents, Jeri Shute in Red Cloud and Don and Carol Gerstner in Medicine Lodge, Kansas; a couple dozen aunts, uncles, cousins, shirttails and a very wide circle of friends from Alaska to Hawaii to Carolinas.
Words are not adequate to define Joel Shute as a person, a human being, or a citizen of the planet. An aviator of the sky, a world class skier and snow aficionado, navigator of water on a kayak or raft, from the mountain tops down the valleys into the creeks and rivers, out into the wild blue yonder.
Joel’s ashes will soon merge with his beloved mountains in the Mt. Sopris couloir above Thomas Lakes. A celebration of Skiing / Friends is planned on top of Sunlight for March 26, then a more civilized storytelling fest on April 22 in the base lodge.
It takes community support to keep The Sopris Sun shining.