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Heavenly Turns

- Written by Gregory Gerken

I met Mitch Underhill through ski racing at Sierra in the early 90’s.The inseparable duo of Mitch and Ryan Shreve together brought a whole new perspective on what race days were all about. All of our team mates knew that pre-race prep was not just about course inspection when Mitch & Ryan lead the team. They would cure pre race butterflies with top to bottom speed runs, flying off the largest knolls, shooting the steepest chutes, eating the deepest powder, and of course spinning heli’s on anything that remotely resembled a jump.
Mitch and Ryan were both extremely strong and talented skiers but very unique at the same time. Ryan had raw untapped athletic talent who skied with brute strength. Mitch’s athletic talent was controlled and finely tuned. I can vividly remember his graceful racing style as well as his smooth picture perfect free ski lines; it was a thing of beauty to watch Mitch ski. It’s no surprise he turned to Tele skiing, he was born to make skiing look effortless with the most heavenly turns you have ever seen.
As ski racing was a passion we all shared as kids, Mitch’s teen year priorities (when not climbing) shifted toward the world of free skiing. Before embarking on any dangerous ski line, Mitch would always be the guy to make the call if it was safe or not to go. As we carved runways high above the cliffs of Avalanche Bowl, you would turn to Mitch, look in his eyes as the leader of the group to make the final call if it was safe to go. The comfort Mitch provided breed confidence in all of us that pushed the level of skiing to higher places.
Many times Mitch would make the “all clear” call, but not always. One memory I recall exemplifies Mitch’s strong character as a leader and intelligent risk taker. As teenagers we were always searching for the next road to jump over. It started with roads in Mitch’s neighborhood, then moved on to empty Mtn Roads of the Sierra’s, but on our list next was the Holy Grail, to jump over HWY 50 on Echo Summit. We scouted it for months and finally climbed up from a highway turnout. We picked our takeoff and landing spot and carved a long runway high above the road to get the required speed to make the jump. While making the final calculations ready for takeoff, Mitch said things were not looking right on the takeoff angle and decided it was not safe for us to go. As much as we both wanted to make the jump it’s scary to think what may have happened that day had Mitch not been there to lead us.
As we move ahead and mourn the loss of our good friend, the memories of Mitch will be cherished. Mitch was too young to leave us. There were so many more ski lines to ride, mountains to climb, lives to save and children to teach. I hope one day my kids will have the opportunity to ski with Mitch’s boys to experience the joy, courage and fun the Underhill’s bring to life. Mitch will be deeply missed and is spirit will live on in our hearts forever.
-Gregory Gerken