Joel Reichenberger: Finding Art Higbee
Steamboat Springs — One of the coolest parts about Steamboat Springs is that everybody you meet is into something big.
That guy over there, come summer, he’s an ultra-marathoner. That woman, she’s one of the state’s best mountain bikers, and that girl, watch for her at the 2014 Olympics.
Sure, sometimes you can tell right away that there’s something special or unique about those people, but generally, and definitely in this town, they blend right in.
Art Higbee was one of those guys.
Higbee died last week of a heart attack while working temporarily at a job in Hawaii. I was assigned to write a story about the man, and I spent most of my week tracking down his friends and trying to figure out exactly who this guy was.
Turns out he was one of those people, the people who live in this town and when you walk past them, they look like anyone else.
Higbee wasn’t anyone else, though. He was one of the best rock climbers of his generation, a generation that helped establish the sport in Colorado. Climbers young and old flocked to message boards and mourned a hero after word of Higbee’s death circulated.
Higbee meant a lot to nonclimbers in Steamboat Springs, as well, but most had little and some had no idea what exactly his climbing exploits entailed. He simply didn’t talk about them. He was a king in certain circles, and though it sounds like he’d regale anyone who asked with stories, he rarely brought it up himself.
Initially, I figured tracking Higbee’s life would be difficult because I know next to nothing about climbing and knew little about Higbee. By Friday afternoon, I had an entirely different problem. Higbee’s friends were calling me from all corners of the country to relay stories of their friend. I was overwhelmed with stories and comments, and even though I made a long story out of them, I used perhaps only a third of what I was able to collect. I didn’t write about how Higbee and famous adventurer David Breashears drove hollering through a moonlit Wyoming night with the headlights off. I didn’t write about how Higbee used to make the skiers he coached on the Colorado Mountain College ski team wake up extra early so they could speed down the highway on their way to competitions. Higbee somehow knew that the lone traffic cop in Kremmling didn’t start his day until 6 a.m.
I didn’t write about how Higbee had put such pressures on his body as a young man that his knee would at times dislocate and he’d come rushing into Peter Van De Carr’s Backdoor Sports for a little impromptu medical attention.
I learned a lot about Higbee in the conversations I was able to pack into my week.
One source said Higbee was a true Steamboat local. Higbee was the perfect representation of my favorite kind of Steamboat local. He was a man who might seem like any other, but a man who was into something (and in his case, many things) very, very big.
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