Jess Roskelley, American alpine climber caught in avalanche, 'died doing what he loved'

Roskelley was named one of the world's "most adventurous" people by Men's Journal last year.

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By Elizabeth Chuck

Before every climb he went on — many in remote parts of the globe where only the most elite alpinists would dare to go — Jess Roskelley would map out his route with his family and let them know exactly when he would be checking in to tell them he was safe.

So when Roskelley, 36, did not call Tuesday evening from his latest expedition, those close to him immediately knew something was wrong.

"He should have been back," his sister, Jordan Roskelley, told NBC News. "That was a bad sign for everybody."

Roskelley, along with two other renowned climbers, Austrians David Lama and Hansjorg Auer, went missing while attempting to climb the harrowing east face of Canada's Howse Peak in Alberta's Banff National Park.

Canadian officials say the trio is presumed to have died in a massive avalanche. Search and rescue teams are waiting for snow and rainy weather conditions to improve before they can look for them, and they expect to comb the mountain over the weekend.

Jordan Roskelley with her brother, elite alpinist Jess Roskelley.Courtesy Jordan Roskelley

Roskelley's sister, speaking from Alberta, where Roskelley's family and wife had just met with search teams, said she was expecting the worst but holding onto a shred of hope that her brother might have somehow survived.

"He lived so much in 36 years and he was an incredible person, so I think we more than anything, we have a little bit of hope," she said. "Jess means everything [to me]."

The route the three climbers were attempting — icy, steep and rocky, with chunks of snow constantly falling on it — has only been successfully climbed once, two decades ago, according to Brandon Pullan, editor in chief of Gripped, a Canadian climbing magazine.

The climbers who completed it in 1999 named it “M16″ because the falling snow constantly pelting them gave them a feeling of always being “under the gun,” one wrote in the American Alpine Journal in 2000.

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But Roskelley, who last year was named one of the “most adventurous” people in the world by Men’s Journal, was no stranger to challenges.

Mountaineer Jess RoskelleyLowa Boots

In 2003, he climbed Mount Everest alongside his father, climbing pioneer John Roskelley. Back home afterward in Spokane, Washington, father and son, then 20, recalled stepping over frozen corpses and encountering everything from illness and infection to a rare white Tibetan wolf during their trek up Everest.

"We’re both suffering some effects,” John Roskelley told The Spokesman-Review in June 2003. “But we have all of our fingers and toes.”

Despite the hardships they faced on the world's tallest peak, Jess Roskelley was undeterred from doing future climbs.

"Everest is the coolest thing that ever happened to me. Next time, though, I want something harder."

"Everest is the coolest thing that ever happened to me,” he told the Spokesman-Review. “Next time, though, I want something harder and with a lot fewer people.”

He continued to make that a goal in the following years, establishing a reputation as a fearless alpinist whose top skills helped him reach summits worldwide. In 2017, he completed the first ascent of the south ridge of Mount Huntington in Alaska. Last year, he charted new climbs in the Kondus Valley of northeast Pakistan.

A welder by profession, he was on the cusp of making alpine climbing a full-time career. With sponsors ranging from outerwear company North Face — which dedicated its homepage Friday to Roskelley and the other two climbers — to Lowa Boots, his expeditions were often subsidized by the brands for whom he was an ambassador.

But in between climbs, he would work long hours away from home and his wife, Allison Roskelley, on welding jobs, the Spokesman-Review reported last April.

“I don’t think it’s a question of if it’s possible,” he told the paper about making a career out of climbing. “It’s a question of when it’s gonna happen, because in my mind I don’t have a choice. I have to try and make that my goal, because it's my dream, my passion. So that’s the only option I have: to continue going until I make it.”

Allison Roskelley, 32, described her husband as someone who "loved with all of his heart."

Alpinist Jess Roskelley with his wife, Allison, in Telluride, Colorado, circa January 2019.Courtesy Roskelley family

"in anything that he did, he put his full heart into it, whether that be climbing, or our marriage, or his relationship with our bulldog," she said, joking that while the couple also has a Labrador retriever, Roskelley considered their bulldog the other love in his life besides his wife.

She added that Roskelley's ambition went beyond his own goals.

"He really introduced me to a life that was more than just normal and comfortable. He taught me to really live for more than just what’s put in front of us every day, and he gave me a drive for wanting to be more and really pushed me into being the best version of myself," she said.

Roskelley's sister Jordan, 29, said that as serious as Roskelley was about climbing, he also had a good sense of humor. She recalled long family car trips growing up when she would fall asleep, only to wake up and find Roskelley had stuck a wad of gum in her hair.

As an adult, when he wasn't climbing, Roskelley would crack his family and friends up with puns and was "so damn funny," she said.

And while Roskelley never doubted his skills as an alpinist, he was well aware of the dangers of climbing.

"My brother died doing what he loved, what he lived for," Jordan Roskelley said.

She said she initially worried her brother would live in the shadow of their world-class climber father.

"That’s a big shadow, but he really found his own stride and what he was good at," she said of Roskelley.

"He would always say, 'If something happens, you have to take care of Mom and Dad, and take care of Allison,'" she added. "I’m doing the best I can to do that for him."