‘True Squallywood legend’ | Tahoe photographer beginning road to recovery after spinal cord injury
Swelling support for A-Bro; fundraiser Sunday at Squaw
High Fives has begun a crusade to rally support for the Abrahams through an online fundraising campaign that will help curb whatever portion of the overwhelming medical costs they can’t cover.
“I don’t want Jason and Kate to ever have to worry about finances, so we’ll do everything we possibly can to cover their entire recovery so they can focus on what’s really important, which is the rehabilitation process,” said Roy Tuscany, founder of High Fives and close family friend to Kate and Jason.
As of Thursday, the effort had already raised more than $45,000 for medical expenses.
Further, in collaboration with Squaw Valley and the Shane McConkey Foundation, the team at High Fives is hosting a community fundraiser at the Rocker in Squaw Valley this Sunday, April 19, from 5-11 p.m.
The event will feature a three-course dinner, live music and a silent auction that is exploding with one-of-a-kind prizes, like one of the original chairlifts from Squaw’s KT-22, a pair of skis from Shane McConkey’s classic collection, and a 2015-16 season’s pass to Squaw-Alpine, among other epic treasures.
“It’s really impressive to see so many people immediately rally and mobilize, which I think speaks volumes to the impact the two of them have had on this community,” said Jason Morgan, assistant manager at Rocker, where he’s formed a close friendship with Kate, who has managed the restaurant for a number of years. “It’s refreshing to see the community rally behind them and it’s also really inspirational to see somebody go through an absolutely horrible circumstance, but to handle it with grace that Kate has.”
OLYMPIC VALLEY, Calif. — Etched into the ebb and flow of Jason Abraham’s life story are countless images of the craggy peaks, granite outcroppings and vertical chutes that have shaped, altered and transformed his overall growth and evolution thus far.
In taking stock of the North Tahoe-based photographer’s mountaineering exploits, there are perhaps two profound turning points that fundamentally altered the course of his existence, both of which were set against the backdrop of two of his most revered mountains.
The first game-changer occurred nearly five years ago in the untamed heart of the Sierra, also known as Ebbetts Pass, where Abraham — dubbed “A-bro” by his Tahoe friends and family — had just capped a day of backcountry skiing before calling to check in with then-girlfriend-now-wife, Kate Abraham, who was eagerly waiting to hear from him.
“I knew he didn’t have any service out there, but I wanted to tell him first and when he finally was able to call, the first thing I said to him was ‘we’re having a baby,’” Kate said.
His immediate response was to suggest naming their first-born Ebbett — an homage to the geographical canvass that would forever color his memory of that moment.
The second monumental juncture in A-bro’s life — albeit far less enchanting — happened last Thursday morning, April 9, after the 35-year-old, well-respected ripper dropped into Main Chute, a steep, but negotiable section of Squaw Valley’s Palisades that opens into Siberia Bowl.
‘I’M GOING TO GET BACK ON MY FEET’
Cascading through the first few turns with his usual control, he intended to slow his speed before reaching the reverse traverse just below the Palisades, where a handful of his closest friends were waiting.
“I tried to shut down my speed, but I caught an edge and ended up falling below the reverse traverse line,” A-bro said Tuesday evening from a hospital bed at Renown Regional Medical Center’s ICU Trauma Unit, where he was taken via helicopter after the crash.
In a characteristically level-headed and mellow tone, Abro unraveled the scope and complexity of his fractured C6/7 vertebrae and damaged spinal cord that — for now — has caused him to lose feeling from his chest to his toes.
“I immediately thought about not just how my life had changed forever, but more so how it would change the lives of Kate and Ebbett, and of my family and friends,” he said.
The world the Abrahams once knew may be never be the same, but it’s safe to say the rock-solid foundation of their marriage; their infinite love for Ebbett; and the support of their surrounding family, friends and coworkers, and of the positive energy pulsating from the Tahoe community, will help propel their unshakable optimism in the journey ahead.
“Kate and I chose to live here not only because we love the mountains, but because we were blown away by how incredible the Tahoe tribe is,” A-bro said. “That’s not to say there won’t be some periods where it’s tough, but having that support is what is going to push you forward and say ‘I’m going to get back on my feet.’”
CUT FROM A CREATIVE CLOTH
If you’ve ever read Robb Gaffney’s “Squallywood: A Guide to Squaw Valley’s Most Exposed Lines,” or perused the pages of Powder Magazine, or felt the unparalleled spirit captured through images of the High Fives Foundation or the Shane McConkey Foundation, odds are you’ve seen a sample of the free-flowing and fearless photographs of Elevated Image Photography, founded by Abraham in 2005.
“When A-bro is taking photos, you barely notice the camera is on you because he’s such an easy guy to be around; whereas, with other photographers, you might feel like you’re posing,” said JT Holmes, a big mountain freeskier, world-renowned BASE jumper and close family friend. “With the McConkey Foundation in particular, he knows how to capture the vibe of an event and he does it with humor, so his personality really comes through in his photographs, and, I think that’s why people are drawn to them.”
A-bro’s professional relationship with the big-mountain world inevitably trickles into his personal friendships, and vice versa, adding a visual depth and complexity to his images that further captures the essence of the sport, the mountain, and the individual athlete.
“There’s a reason I hired Jason to take the pictures for all of our Squallywood Clinics over the years, and why his photo got the cover of the Squallywood book,” said Dr. Gaffney, who’s also a local ski-industry pioneer. “Jason is a true Squallywood legend and he’s been a staple of the North Tahoe skiing community.”
‘I WANT TO BE ABLE TO WALK WITH MY FAMILY AGAIN’
Whether shooting portraiture, outdoor adventure sports, weddings and events, his photographs seem to infuse the personalities and characteristics that embody the Tahoe community — more specifically, the energy of the Tahoe legends like the late Shane McConkey and late Timy Dutton, and philanthropic organizations like High Fives.
“This is a life-altering event, there’s no denying that, but we’re so fortunate to be surrounded by people who understand what we’re going through, and who have a comprehension of how to build your mind power back up, which is going to be critical in his recovery process,” Kate said. “We’re lucky to be so well connected to these amazing people who have already paved the way through this whole process, and I think that’s the silver lining here.”
There’s much to learn from A-bro’s journey thus far, and there’s no denying the challenging road ahead, and the unpredictable future he must face head on.
But, support from Roy Tuscany’s High Fives and other pro skiers aside, there’s a considerable force driving the hope, determination and sheer strength of both A-bro and Kate.
“I have some time alone in here every day, so I’ve learned to practice meditation where I think about moving my legs in biking and skiing and hiking and walking with Ebbett, because more than anything, I want to be able to walk with my family again,” Abraham said. “That’s the only way I can really look at this, because I’m not willing to accept being in a wheelchair for the rest of my life.”