Residents of the small town of Leavenworth mourned the loss of three "very beloved characters" who lived and breathed Leavenworth.
LEAVENWORTH, Chelan County — On an early Monday morning walk along the snow-covered streets of this community, Hannah Schons could see it on the face of every neighbor she passed: shock.
“It’s hard to explain,” said Schons, standing later in the small restaurant she manages in the middle of town. “It’s a close-knit community. This hit us hard.”
All three skiers who died Sunday in an avalanche near the Stevens Pass ski area were prominent residents of Leavenworth, a town of less than 2,000 at the foot of the Cascades.
The swollen eyes of the locals Monday seemed to stand out even more among the smiles of the many tourists and out-of-towners who had come to the Bavarian-themed village for a holiday weekend, seeming to enjoy the clear and mild day even as the town mourned.
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That triggered a noticeably odd dynamic, said Cindy Jones, a 23-year-old who drives a horse carriage in the town.
The tourists she took through the streets Monday had heard about the deaths, Jones said, and she patiently filled in the details.
A destination for adventure-seekers, Leavenworth is familiar with tragedies, Jones said, recalling a July rafting trip that claimed the life of a 69-year-old woman from the Chelan area.
But nothing this devastating has happened here in years, she said.
The loss was intensified by the reputations of the three victims, said Nancy Smith, director of the town’s Chamber of Commerce.
International skiing star Jim Jack, local carpenter John Brenan and Stevens Pass marketing director Chris Rudolph were “very beloved characters” who lived and breathed Leavenworth, Smith said.
On Monday, friends built a memorial in the town park out of a pair of skis, flowers and a simple message: “We will never forget you!”
One local man who stopped by to put some coffee beans beside the memorial said he didn’t know the victims personally and is not a part of the local skiing community. But he is a part of Leavenworth.
“We’re all kind of a family,” he said. “You lose a couple members of your family and everybody feels it.”
Down the street at Uncle Uli’s Pub, a ski bar where a burger and sauce long have been named after Jack, residents gathered to share photos of the victims and reminisce about ski trips past.
One friend, Stevens Pass ski-school instructor Nils Riise, said the victims made a tremendous impact on the town through their passion for helping others. They often would buy ski tickets for those who couldn’t afford them, Riise said.
“It’s really hard to imagine life without them,” Riise said.
Healing will take time, pub owner T.R. Revere said. “They’re in our hearts. It’ll be a long road to get through this.”
“It’s a one-of-a-kind community,” he added, “and they were one-of-a-kind people.”
Brian M. Rosenthal: 206-464-3195
On Twitter @brianmrosenthal