Death in the Back Country- The Wrenching Loss of Sam Failla


“Hey Sam! How’s it going?”

It was the end of November, and the ski season at Vail was just starting for me. Nearly two years ago two of my daughters had decided to become preschool ski instructors at Vail, Colorado. The training was pretty grueling, eight days of in class and on snow instruction, capped by several days of ‘auditing’-watching other instructors, before you were given a class of little ones to teach to ski.

My daughters came home with romping tales of little ones of all nationalities and encouraged me to join them the next year. Why not? I thought. Since their father’s death, if my children ever asked me to do something athletic or adventurous, or anything that brought us together, I would move heaven and earth to make it happen.

Sam Failla’s tousled head bent over the pizza he was currently inhaling. Two little boys sat in front of him at the cafeteria table, gazing up at Sam adoringly.

“Great, Victoria! You working?”

“Nope! Just getting my skis. How was your summer?”

“Epic! I took this awesome trip to Asia!” Sam regaled me with a hilarious account of a journey he and several other ski instructors had taken to interesting spots in Thailand, Cambodia and other engaging spots on the Far East. I listened with interest, and marveled at the youthful energy Sam exuded. The world truly was his oyster.

Sam Failla was another reason why I did this part time job at Vail. The money wasn’t great, to be sure, though the skiing was unmatched. Teaching at Vail attracts an invigorating crowd of risk-takers, boundary pushers who step outside their comfort zones. Most times, these were post graduate gap-year takers, either high school or college age.  This gang was free-wheeling and inclusive, and a lot of fun to be around.  Often, there were middle aged part timers like me, striving mightily to hide the fact that our rickety knees could usually stand up to three or four days in a row, before having to go home to ice and Advil. (God forbid the twenty-ish types should get a glimpse of THAT!)

Sam Failla was a great representation of this group.  Sam was 24, I was 53, old enough to be Sam’s mother. In the rest of the non-ski teacher world, these athletic, accomplished kids were too cool to have much to say to a different generation. Not so with Sam and his peers. Sam, in particular, was loud, jolly and energetic. He was a full timer at Vail, and jumped into his work with overflowing alacrity. I’d see him patiently encouraging kids on the smallest bunny hill, and leading a group of little ones to a mountain class, all with a giant smile under that messy hair.

We’d interact casually in the crowded lunch room, offering to watch each other’s table so the other could use the restroom, comparing notes on the snow, chuckling about the behavior of some of kids in attendance that day.

What encouraged me about Sam was his utter ease with all sorts of people on the mountain. He always had a funny word for his peers, and treated me exactly the same as his post-collegiate buddies. It was delightful to be around Sam, and frankly, gave me hope for the supposedly spoiled millennial generation. Sam was a kind and generous soul, and was truly going places. It was a pleasure to make his acquaintance.

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Rest in peace, Sam Failla.

https://www.gofundme.com/db6kw-bringsamhome

 

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