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JHSM Issue 17 - Picking Up The Pieces
Matt slicing down the face of the Skillet Glacier. Photo: Nicholas Herrschaft

Picking Up The Pieces

What’s left behind when a snowboarder is gone too soon?

On February 22, 2021, avid backcountry snowboarder Matt Brien was caught in a fatal avalanche while riding the Broken Thumb Couloir in Grand Teton National Park. Despite doing extensive research and planning for the right moment to ride the line, it proved to be his last. His death left a huge hole in the Jackson Hole snowboarding community, which had just been rocked by the avalanche death of fellow rider Mike McKelvey four days prior. Matt’s positivity and lust for life spurred everyone around him to enjoy life to the fullest. He will be dearly missed. We asked some of Matt’s family and friends to reflect on his life and passing

Tim Brien – Father

Given the planning and preparation that went into his backcountry tours, I honestly believed that Matt was more likely to have a bad accident mountain biking in Moab rather than snowboarding. But when rappelling was added to the mix when riding a line, I asked him, “Where does it stop? Will the rappel be replaced with a BASE jump next year?” Clearly, he and his buddies were serious adrenalin junkies, but I wish that somehow he [had] found a safer way to satisfy that need. People tell me that he was doing what he loved, but that doesn’t make me feel any better because he is no longer around to do anything at all. The mountains are an unforgiving place, and on that day this quest for the ultimate line cost him his life. Perhaps his death will cause other adventurers to stop and reflect on when enough is enough, that even though they do everything right, things can go horribly wrong.

JHSM Issue 17 - Picking Up The Pieces
Illustration: Maria Sengle

Gail Brien – Mother

It’s [been] almost nine months now since Matt passed and each day I lose him again. I didn’t just lose him once. I wake up every morning and that gut-punch reminds me that he is gone. Again. I didn’t just lose a son, which in itself is devastating, but I also lost a wonderful friend. I loved Matt with every fiber of my being and enjoyed talking to him, sometimes for hours on the phone, and hanging out with him whenever we could get some time together. He and Tim [Matt’s dad] planned all of our vacations together out west and every single one was epic. Priceless one-on-one time with our son—something we’ll always be grateful for.

Matt’s love for life, love for adventure, love for family, contagious laugh, [and] beautiful smile made him just a great person to be around and so much fun. As a mother I always wanted just two things for my children: I wanted them to be good people and I wanted them to be happy. I can honestly say that I got my wish. Matt had high morals and values and I was really proud of him for that. He truly was a really good person. And it goes without saying he was a very happy young man, living his life to the fullest. It crushes me that there will be no more phone calls, no more stories of his epic adventures, no more warm hugs, no more teasing and laughing, no more trips together, no more trips home to see his family, no more I love yous. I’m still navigating this grief and heartbreaking loss, and I am aware my journey is going to be long. It’s not a journey I ever thought I would have to take.

JHSM Issue 17 - Picking Up The Pieces
The master of stoke, smiling on. Photo: Nicholas Herrschaft

Beartle Viek – Close Friend

Matt lived life to the fullest! He was true to himself and fully committed to doing what made him happy. Matt’s passion and positivity were contagious. He will continue to inspire us. This coming February 22, 2022, we shred for Matt! If you don’t snowboard, that’s cool, just get outside and do something that makes you happy.

“Matt’s positivity and lust for life spurred everyone around him to enjoy life to the fullest.”

Matt Brien’s passion for snowboarding was unprecedented. When that passion brought him to Jackson Hole, he made friends with a fervent crew of splitboarders and spent many long days riding backcountry lines around the valley. His tragic passing should remind us all that just as the mountains can bring us together, so too can they rip us apart. Matt touched many lives during his time in Jackson and we know his spirit and stoke will live on through his family and friends.

JHSM Issue 17 - Picking Up The Pieces
Photo: Nicholas Herrschaft

Please be safe in the backcountry this winter. Always have your avalanche gear with you and never ride alone. Think twice before you go into the backcountry and pay close attention to the avalanche conditions throughout the season. Ride on friends.

Memorial donations can be made in Matt Brien’s honor to the Teton County Search and Rescue, PO Box 1063, Jackson WY 83001. www.tetoncountysar.org/donate

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