Shooting Star: The story of Marco Siffredi, the snowboarder who disappeared on Everest, is one we all should know

“If you don’t know who Marco Siffredi is, you’re not alone,” writes a 2021 Outside magazine book review on See You Tomorrow, the biography of a big mountain prodigy who picked up snowboarding at 16, road the north face of the Aiguille du Midi a year later, and eventually claimed the first descent of Everest at 22.

Jeremy Evans, the book’s author, believes Svati Kirsten Narula should have phrased her critique differently.

“If you don’t know who Marco Siffredi is … you should,” Evans said.

As the dyed-hair, gap-toothed wunderkind checked off every major deadly backcountry route in his notorious Chamonix Valley home, the life predestined for powder-filled purpose kept searching for bigger routes. Just descending Everest wasn’t enough. The Hornbein Couloir, a narrow and steep route championed by just 11 people, including the first — now 91-year-old Estes Park resident Thomas Hornbein — was the apple of every big mountain rider’s eye.

It brought Siffredi back to the tallest peak in the world a second time in 2002. After a successful summit, an arc of Siffredi’s final turns heading towards the couloir are all we have as clues to his mysterious disappearance. The drama caught the eye of Evans, who first learned of the story scanning the AP wire as a sports journalist in Nevada. A few years later, the then high school teacher randomly decided to google the name again to see what had become of the prodigy.

“He seemed like this larger-than-life figure,” Evans said.

On Wednesday, Feb. 23, the Vail Symposium welcomes Evans and three-time Everest summiter Ellen Miller of Vail to discuss one of the peak’s greatest mysteries at Vail Interfaith Chapel.

His narrative of the kind, gentle and innocent soul who left the world too soon, but poured more intentional living into his 23 years than 100 octogenarians combined, makes the text hard to put down.

The “shooting star,” and the “Little Prince.”

A wise writer once advised, “If you want to say a lot, you have to have a lot to say.” Evans, who currently masquerades as a writer while full-time collegiate soccer coaching, has lived the life of variety a wordsmith needs.

A self-proclaimed “jean skier from Arizona,” the avid snowboarder and climber has gone from The Carson City Daily to Lake Tahoe Community College, from grinding along the relentless sports beat to prepping to teach college English. Along the way, he wrote his first book, In Search of Powder: A Story of America’s Disappearing Ski Bum. The project, which Evans assured me had nothing to do with wanting to travel to the best ski towns in America, provided a connection to Siffredi’s life motif.

“I wanted to work for a big metro paper, and then I’m like, you know what, maybe those ski bums in Tahoe have something else to teach everybody else in America about just following your passion, living your life, and not looking at material goods as a way to quantify where you’re at in life,” Evans said about his epiphany from his own novel.

It was while poking around on the internet during the South Tahoe High School teaching chapter of his life that Siffredi popped back into the fore. He learned that the snowboarder, whose daring descents had to be documented by the French photographer Rene Robert for proof of occurrence, had disappeared on Everest in 2002. Other than that, not much had been written about him. The latter fact would become less of a shock as Evans began deeper research, which started with a call to Robert.

“He didn’t really care about the limelight,” Evans said of the athlete who would have been helpless in today’s culture stacked with social media influencers. He often road several brands’ boards and perceived` a compromise in values as anathema.

“I just assumed, like a lot of people, when you see the pictures of him — he’s a young, brash, cocky kid, that maybe deserved this fate,” Evans said.

“Like, ‘well, you’re a kook, what are you doing snowboarding up Everest? You got piercings, you got dyed hair, you look like a total punk rocker. You got what you deserve.’ That’s kind of what a lot of people think when they learn anything about Marco. But as I dug deeper that’s not really who he was at all.”

The first person who gave Evans a different side of the obsessively driven Siffredi was Vail’s Ellen Miller, who met the author for coffee in Vail back in 2016. Miller provided the cornerstone literary device which forms the metaphoric tapestry of the book: The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s children’s book about life, human nature and the inability of adults to perceive “important things.”

“Like the little Prince, Marco was a shooting star, here to shine brightly and vanish quickly, no goodbyes,” Evans writes in See You Tomorrow.

He hearkens back to The Little Prince throughout, constantly weaving the eerie similarity between its main character and his while contrasting the idea of childhood exuberance with the poisonous drabness of adulthood. Marco lived with a youthful spirit, but his accomplishments and sense of purpose were as meaningful as any mature being.

“Death is tragic, but no matter how brief one’s years are, living without a purpose is the greatest tragedy of all,” writes Evans.

“He looked wild and crazy, but he’s like a child. He kind of remained that youthful spirit til the end,” Evans said of the snowboarder who passed away at 23. “That’s why I incorporated the angle of The Little Prince.”

“Many of us call Marco a shooting star, meaning that his life was so bright and brilliant, but it ended so quickly,” said Miller, who was a member of Russell Brice’s Everest team that saw Siffredi successfully ascended and descended the peak in 2001. As Marco jubilantly ripped down, he stopped to give the huffing and puffing Miller, still hiking up, a boyish grin and encouragement, one of the most poignant memories she still holds from the trip. Other such moments, like Miller decorating Easter eggs with Siffredi at a camp high on the mountain, abound in the book.

“When I see shooting stars know, I think — Marco,” Miller said. “He had such a free spirit, I was fascinated with I guess. I feel like in my life, he’s been a shooting star.”

Miller noted the dichotomy inherent to the ‘badass’ snowboarder who was also kind, respectful, and would even email the Vail climber with encouragement when he found out of her upcoming trips.

“Marco and I bonded, we had a sweet, supportive relationship with mutual respect for each other,” she stated.

Siffredi had a knack for bonding with the Tibetan locals, too, forging deeper relationships than any other person who came to the Himalayas. A vivid scene of him skateboarding through a small village, laughing kids trailing his curves, is painted in the text.

“Marco was the most free-spirited person I have ever met, and I have met a lot of free spirited people in my life!” Miller said. “He embodied the French term “Joie de Vivre!”

Marco’s Mystery and Message

While people routinely perish on Everest, Siffredi’s case is certainly different.

“The fact that his body has not been found does make it more interesting. He was never seen,” said Evans. “That’s different from nearly every single other death on Everest.”

While Evans gives a detailed account of what he thinks happened to the snowboarder, he keeps the reader dangling by a thread as he introduces more than a few potential cliff-hangers. If you don’t care about spoilers, you can listen to an in-depth discussion on all elements, as well as the writing process, on his interview me here.

At the end of the day, Evans primary concern was producing a book pleasing to two people: Siffredi’s family, who also lost Marco’s older brother to a big mountain accident, and Tom Hornbein, the Estes Park mountaineer who pioneered the couloir named in his honor, the crown jewel of big mountain descents that is still yet to be conquered after Siffredi’s disappearance attempting it.

“He’s taken an interest the whole way,” Evans said of Hornbein, now in his 90’s, an invaluable resource in the research process.

“It’s like speaking to a library of mountaineering that no one else gets access to.”

“The people that cared about Marco most and that part of Everest most said, good job Jeremy,” he said. “That’s the most rewarding.”

Perhaps it was that the book was published during the pandemic, but Evans’s message in writing emerged with increasing clarity only recently. “I’ve just realize that not everybody is meant to live to be 85 and die of natural causes,” he said. “I’m not saying he (Siffredi) had a death wish, but I am saying that he had a life wish.”

What sticks out to both Miller and Evans is the passionate, unrelenting drive for Siffredi to live each day to the fullest.

“He was courageous, brave, ambitious, prepared, but he was also caring and loving. He was willing to risk it all. He had a conviction for what he believed in. We don’t have a lot of people in this world who will risk it all,” said Evans.

“I’m not asking everybody to go climb Everest — it’s finding out what you really love in life and having conviction and not compromising.”

Marco’s tool was a snowboard, and his canvas was the Alps and the Himalayas. Still, humility, bravery, ambition, and belief in what you stand for are timeless.

“What he stood for is more important than how many years somebody lives,” said Evans.

“It’s not about how many years you live, it’s what are people going to remember about you and what you stood for when you go, and I think that’s the message of this book.”

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