Potter was well-known in the extreme sports community for his daring and seeming invulnerability to catching the wrong side of the term “calculated risk.” Alongside the likes of Alex Honnold, Potter was one of five athletes who had their Clif Bar sponsorship revoked because the brand was afraid that these athletes were going to kill themselves.
Half a year later, Dean Potter is dead.
Any person who spends their time in pursuit of these extreme activities knows death hovers nearby. Potter was one of the most skilled human flyers in the world, and he died in pursuit of that passion. Accomplished mountaineers and sherpas were killed last month when an avalanche rolled through the Mt. Everest base camp; and more were killed last year when parts of the notorious Khumbu Icefall collapsed.
In an outdoors life, there are many times when even the most practiced technical skill will not save you.
Everyone, from the recreational amateur to the sponsored pro, knows this. I know this. My readers will know this. It is a simple, silent understanding. It is the bond which underlies fraternity and camaraderie at the crag or on the chairlift.
Sometimes, the mainstream (media and otherwise) does not understand this.
Inevitably, after a high-profile death such as this, there will be Facebook think-pieces and mainstream media hot-takes which will proclaim Dean Potter a fool, the sport of BASE jumping foolhardy and selfish.
They are right, of course.
The temptation here, is to lessen the sharpness, the jaggedness of the death with a platitude: “At least he died doing what he loved.”
We are being selfish, chasing what we love. No person climbs difficult, long pitches because their mother wants them to.
We come back to that term, “calculated risk.”
People like Dean Potter live their lives with a calculated risk: that what they are doing will bring more joy, to themselves and others, than the crater that comes, almost inevitably, at the end.
Dean touched many lives; even those he didn’t know. He was an inspiration and an ambassador for the lifestyle he loved. He brought much joy. In the end, despite whatever miscalculation stopped his heartbeat, it did not take his life.
RIP Dean. May your soul keep soaring.