Sep 16 2015

Bela Vadasz, ASI Founder & Guide, dies

Bela Vadasz  1953-2015

Bela Vadasz 1953-2015

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.

Bela Vadasz on home turf, the south side of Mt. Judah (Sugar Bowl Backcountry).

Bela Vadasz on home turf, the south side of Mt. Judah (Sugar Bowl Backcountry).

Bela was known as the headstrong half of Alpine Skills International. He met Mimi in college and they teamed up to create a plan to teach mountaineering in the Sierra. After graduating and marrying, they founded ASI and began offering courses at Donner Pass, near Sugar Bowl where Bela learned to ski.

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.

My fave Bela shot in action, the crux move of a Pedal-Hop turn, from a dead stop.

My fave Bela shot in action, the crux move of a Pedal-Hop turn, from a dead stop.

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.

updated 17sept15:

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.

© 2015

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.

Related Posts
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

Official Obituary

Related Posts
Remembering Bela Vadasz 1953-2015 by Brad Rassler

You are encouraged to leave a comment below.

  • charlie ziskin

    I’ve been stunned for the last several days. I never met Bela but he was a great role model to me nevertheless. We have lost a giant in our world. Condolences to Mimi, Tobin, and Logan.

  • Rich Davies

    I am still in shock at the passing of Bela. I first met Bela upon his visit to REI Berkeley where I was working back in the late 70′s. Bela brought in fliers about his business which I posted and promoted as this was a program I believed in as I was a professional mountain guide as well but not at Bela’s level. I spent time at the Spitz Haute when it was in its birth and construction. I spent numerous visits there as the years went by and became good friends with Bela and Mimi. Just a few weeks ago I was texting with Bela as he was getting into cycling where I have a depth of experience. Then I chatted about what got him into surfing and designing boards. The mountaineering/Rock Climbing and wilderness skiing community has lost a visionary person who had a major impact on the sports he was involved with. Bela, you will be missed by me and many others who we had the good fortune of meeting and experiencing your passion and expertise in the fields you had chosen. RIP buddy as you will be missed.

  • Alan L. Dubin

    I was saddened to hear about Bela’s passing. He and Mimi had a profound effect on me as a backcountry skier and mountain traveler. I took a number of courses through ASI, and spent a delightful afternoon with Bela on one occasion. He will be missed.

  • Petesthousandpeaks Ptp

    I never knew Bela but stayed a night, I think, at the ASI Lodge with a friend. Being terribly paranoid, I surmised guides had paid off the execs at the old local enviro hiking club to get rid of the mountaineering trips that we ran. To be a true monopoly, they’d have had to get rid of a lot of people! ASI conducted high quality trips for high quality people. They did a real service to the climbing community, and it’s nice to have converted the old air force lodging to what it is now (Donner Pass). Now on my own downslide, my health is going, it seems, and no amount of money will ever bring that back. Bela, Mimi, and ASI gave class to the area, as a mountaineering, climbing, and ski mountaineering base. Though the enviro hiking club didn’t hire guides for their trips, they ran activities sadly which disrespected the mountains, and that some of them go on while fine guides and people leave us, I consider a tragedy of fate. R.I.P., any such fine person’s passing is a shock to us all.