"My dad had me on skis when I was three," Ned told me. "I wasn't great, but I loved being out in the air." After attending Dartmouth and making the 1968 Olympic team in cross-country skiing, he had what he called a "brief fling with being a serious person." His stay at business school lasted a day. Over the years he reached the summit of Everest, skied the Mountains of the Moon on the Uganda-Zaire border, made the first Telemark descent of the 22,834-foot Aconcagua in Argentina and ski-traversed the Karakoram Range in the Himalayas. He and Galen Rowell were the first climbers to make a one-day ascent of McKinley. With three friends, he rowed a 28-foot aluminum boat across Drake Pas-sage, through some of the worst sea-level weather in the world, landing on Nelson Island off the Antarctic Peninsula. Seven-hundred-twenty miles and 13 hellish days after embarking, Ned stepped onto the ice and broke into a grin.
Ned usually wore that grin, though the things he did were ferociously difficult. He remained boyish in the way that a boy is more wide-eyed and hopeful than a man, always focusing on what was ahead, not what he had just accomplished. That's what Susie, a 1976 U.S. Olympian in the downhill, learned when she married him. "I did have an idea of what I was getting into," she told me as the train bumped through Morocco. "I did not know some of it would be quite so extreme." For their honeymoon, they ski-trekked in Tibet.
The campground where Ned was killed is in the shadows of the great mountains where he and Susie once had an adventure to cherish. "Suddenly one day," Ned said, "we found ourselves in this high, beautiful valley. We camped there, skiing and climbing and exploring. That valley—where no one's ever been, perhaps, was Heaven." We choose to remember Ned way up there.