Bela Vadasz, a leader and visionary in America’s ski mountaineering world, has died. He founded Alpine Skills International with his wife, Mimi Maki-Vadasz, in 1979 and from that moment on, dedicated his unrelenting energy to guiding, teaching and promoting the mountaineering life; not just mountaineering, but ski mountaineering in particular.
As someone who worked with him for two decades the news was not completely unexpected, but shocking nonetheless. Losing friends is never easy.
Bela had been in and out of hospitals with repercussions from a compromised heart condition a few times over the last decade. The first time he was diagnosed with mild myocardial infarction he thought it was just a severe case of indigestion that lasted a day and a half. As a mountaineer he knew how to endure pain, and thought he was in excellent physical condition. Except for his heart, he was.
Unlike most guiding operations, Bela and Mimi emphasized ski mountaineering. They were the first to ski from the summit of Denali on cross-country skis. They led dozens of tours on the Sierra High Route and skied from the summit of Makalu in the Himalaya.
Bela’s passion for technical precision led to becoming involved in the quest to have the American guiding standards raised to an international level. Bela Vadasz was technical director of the AMGA ski mountaineering program and was one of the first two American guides licensed by the IFMGA. He receive the AMGA’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008.
Bela was also instrumental in the founding of the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education, and in the ongoing development of the AIARE curriculum.Besides guiding, teaching, and climbing Bela was an avid surfer and musician, playing percussion in Montaña, a local band in Truckee that played early Santana classics.
Bela continued to lead ASI in offering a full range of mountaineering and snow safety courses, even personally taking over a program training the Marines at Camp Pendleton in southern California. According to Mimi his doctors had recently given him a clean bill of health, saying he could do whatever he wanted, “climb Everest or jump out of planes.” Tuesday morning he felt dizzy so he checked into a local hospital, then died unexpectedly during an exploratory medical procedure. He was only 62.
Bela Vadasz is survived by his sons Tobin and Logan, his wife Mimi, and the many friends he made in the mountains.
Editor’s Note: The first publication of this article indicated that Bela had an ongoing heart condition. That may have been true, but the recent proclamation of health suggests he had overcome those issues and he did remain active; surfing, jamming, and climbing. An autopsy is yet to be performed to determine the exact cause of death.
Moonshine Ink article on Bela Vadasz
Excerpts from FB:
Sad and shocking news: Friend of the mountains and guide extraordinaire Bela Vadasz passed away yesterday. I had the pleasure of working for Bela briefly, and wrote a few short pieces about him and Mimi. I fondly recall Bela enthusing about his years in the Sierra over a two-hour lunch at Sugar Bowl.
— Brad Rassler
On behalf of the family we wanted to let you know that Bela passed away yesterday unexpectedly while undergoing a medical procedure in Oceanside, Ca. We are all saddened and shocked, a memorial will be held but understandably there are no current plans, we will keep you posted. Most important to Bela was his family, followed by his deep love of the mountains, the oceans, and his music. I’m sure he had a profound influence on many of you as we know you had on him. Bela followed his passion and lived the pure life. Something we all hope to do at some level and he nailed it. We just do not run across many people like Bela, he was truly one of the good guys.
— Rich Everett
I was extremely saddened to learn of the passing of Bela Vadasz of Alpine Skills International yesterday. I learned a lot from Bela when I was a young, inexperienced climbing guide in the nineties. He loved to coach, mentor, and teach and I feel fortunate to have learned from him. Heartfelt condolences to the family/close friends and may Bela rest in peace.
— Heidi Joy Pesterfield
Goodbye Bela Vadasz.
The mountains, the equipment, the peaks, the ocean, the weather and the risk did not get him. His tireless preparation and knowledge of surviving and thriving during the most difficult circumstances never failed him. His passion and enthusiasm never left him. It was simply that he was mortal. To my friend of 45 years, San Francisco claims you as well. May you be at peace. May your family and friends find solace in knowing that you lived your life on your terms and may we all remember the lessons that you have taught us. The Pacific Ocean, the Sierra’s and the peaks of the world must be feeling sad today, knowing that their ambassador, their translator, their advocate and their environmentalist has departed. You became one of those legends in alpine history that you so admired. Farewell.
— Kathleen White
Today started with the realization that I just lost one of my closest friends and peers….someone that had profound influence and positive impact for me over many years. I just read the news of Bela’s passing this morning and it’s taken a few hours to process this and collect some thoughts to convey about how Bela lived his life and influenced the complete history and direction of mountain guiding in the US.
No mere words can do proper justice to what Bela meant to both myself personally and everyone who had the pleasure to ‘feel’ his passion and contagious compassion for the lifestyle and culture we share as the basis for our ‘raison d’etre‘. I simply cannot express how monumental Bela’s presence literally created opportunities at a time when the profession of mountain guiding in the US was in its most formative stage.
Bela’s systematic approach offered me such a unique privilege to have this intimate connection and appreciation for details. He was the ultimate perfectionist and all mountain guides are the direct beneficiaries of his ‘caretaker’ status in respect to setting and maintaining the highest standards both in hard skills and client care. And yet the greatest asset that Bela’s spirit offers is his ‘visionary’ gift that has become a permanent resident within all those who had the pleasure to know him! Bela mastered the art of creativity in a formal progression that he offered with the greatest appreciation for the process as much as the final product….his mental preparation followed in sequence with conscious and shared incubation, then those ‘eureka’ moments when concepts and reality collide into the verification stage of implementation. This creative journey through Bela’s life has now begun another series of adventures into a realm that somehow seems appropriate for how Bela viewed this process.
In the years that have gone by I spent less time with Bela yet the memories are an integral part of what I am and believe. Thank you Bela for all you are! I know his compassion and strength are felt by Mimi, Tobin and Logan at this most difficult time of grief, acceptance and growth. Remember to look up, breath intensely deep and see through wide open eyes all that we need to know. Namaste and Tashi Delek! Ciao Bela!
— Dick Jackson – Aspen Expeditions
Remembering Bela Vadasz 1953-2015 by Brad Rassler
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