Over ten years ago, in my first months as an editor at Powder, one of my best friends was killed in Afghanistan. Ben Osborn and I skied together, but laughed together a whole lot more. As a New Yorker born and raised, albeit in upstate rather than the city, I understood the magnitude of the September 11th terrorist attacks. War is shit. It was also inevitable. Fast forward to the morning in the San Clemente, California, parking lot, where I am realizing a ski dream at The Skier’s Magazine, when my best friend called to say Ben had been shot to death while serving in a war that had not yet produced any meaningful vengeance for the deadly terrorist attacks. What is meaningful vengeance, anyways? War is shit.
My friends and I suffered in the aftermath. We were not sure what to make of Ben’s death. There are platitudes, all true, about the honor of serving our country and dying to protect our freedom, but they do not exactly ease the pain of losing a friend. Those who Ben left behind grew closer and some of us grew apart. I personally struggled of what to make of all it. I know I cried, often times alone, in those days, weeks, and months that followed. Eventually, I moved on and carried his legacy in my heart. Perhaps some moments in our life are not meant to be fully understood.
Fast forward again. Mountain Gazette 196 is heading to the printer. I am a 36-year-old, no longer the 24-year-old who lost a friend 12 years prior, but a husband and a father and a magazine editor. I can not fathom the loss of my son in the way the Osborns experienced 12 years prior.
In the news are stories of the Taliban take over following the pull out of American troops. The War in Afghanistan is over and an old wound is reopening. And I just am not sure how I feel about the whole thing. That is when I am introduced to the photography of Veronique de Viguerie, a French photographer, mother-of-two, and fellow Leica enthusiast who spent three years making photographs in Afghanistan. We strike up a conversation via Instagram DM then email. She sends hundreds of images of a country I do not recognize from television, podcasts, and news stories. She submits photos to Mountain Gazette of what we believe might be the last days of skiing in Afghanistan.
The images are striking, foreign, and yet familiar. In them I see the memories of my own early days of skiing. There is a ping of nostalgia in these new images. I hear Warren Miller’s voice narrate about the ultimate freedom being those first turns on skis. I feel this sentiment in these images of young, Afghani skiers. I decide then and there we have to run our largest gallery to date. Making Mountain Gazette is a lot about feeling.
Veronique pens a beautiful introduction. We discuss the sadness of the Taliban banning women’s sports and skiing all together. I wonder how much harder the Taliban’s takeover will be now that young people have experienced dreams, freedom, and happiness? In a way, I wonder, is this why Ben had to die? So that these folks could live? And what is to come of their lives now that their new-found freedom has been taken away with this Taliban takeover? I had more questions than answers all over again.
When we release a magazine cover it is often a form of closure for us here at Mountain Gazette. With the debut of Mountain Gazette 196 I am pleased to announce our involvement in this story is just beginning. We are in contact and working with agencies to rescue two ski families from Afghanistan where it is no longer safe for them. Our mission is to relocate them to a ski town here in the United States. I would love to name the folks we are working with in this space, but we have all determined it is not safe yet to reveal their names. As for the two Afghan families, I am pleased to share they are out of Afghanistan. They are safe. And their American ski story will begin soon. Our partners even secured them housing in a ski town which we all can agree is no minor miracle.
There is more to come. Until then I do want to share this is not our story alone, but yours as well. We donated some of your subscriber funds to help with the costs associated with relocating these families. We plan to donate more. It’s the least we could do.
Thank you for believing in Mountain Gazette. Our tagline is When in Doubt, Go Higher. My hope is to use it more as an ethos going forward.
Mountain Gazette 196 will be arriving at your doorstep and PO Boxes later this month. It’s packed with stories about what our good friend and contributor George Sibley calls “the romance of ski bummery” in addition to our Afghanistan gallery. I hope you enjoy it.
When in Doubt, Go Higher,
Mike Rogge, editor