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Farewell, Rob Coppolillo

You loved the mountains, you taught us how to enjoy them, and you always made us laugh. The world needed more of you.

By Timmy O’Neill

Rob Coppolillo died while backcountry ski guiding in British Columbia on April 18th, 2024. While this cold fact punctuates his life, Rob befriended, mentored, and inspired so many souls throughout his brief, successful 54 years. 

Rob was a husband to Rebecca and a father to Dominic and Luca. He was an IFMGA-certified guide and the owner of Vetta Mountain Guides. He loved language, be it writing essays and guide books like the indispensable Mountain Guide Manual (which he co-authored with Marc Chauvin) or speaking at length to clients or his cadre of close companions. He was a keen listener and lifelong student who passionately curated and conveyed knowledge. Rob was also very funny, with a sense of humor as twisted as the mountain paths he would endlessly wind whether on bike, skis, or foot. The sum of his parts made us greater. 

Rob Coppolillo, his wife Rebecca Yarmuth, and sons, Dominic and Luca.

Rob resided at the bottom of the pecking order when it came to his  his moral outrage. He was less concerned by personal slights than by communal and global wrongdoing. The greater the injustice and number of people being harmed, the more pronounced his indignation. It is exactly this great sense of honorable, selfless care matched by a zest for self-indulgent debauchery that made Rob so lovable. He was an amalgam of ethical hard lines and fuzzy conventional mores.

Choosing a life in the mountains respectfully acknowledges the thin line between life and death. Rebecca recently asked me, “Why would you go to a place where you can be there one moment and gone the next?” This difficult yet important question gets to the heart of those drawn inexorably to the razor’s edge and the answer is lived as a life wish. The stark truth is that not living while alive is a greater fear than dying. And contrary to convention, it is not an arrogant choice but more a humble acknowledgment, especially in Rob’s case, that profound meaning exists in briefly joining a wild human nature with the wilderness of Mother Nature in the embrace of the unknown. Beauty prevails over horror. 

For Rob there are no more crux sequences nor dance crescendos, and most jarringly, no continued growth and love with his family. And those who remain will no longer share in his fresh-made pizzas over red wine while listening to hilarious tales of his outlandish exploits. Rob produced and exchanged laughter like a precious commodity—he was rolling in it. 

Rob on the Aiguille d’Entrèves traverse in the Alps.

A life of elective challenge, whether in bike cleats, ski boots or rock shoes, provided Rob a mindset based on dividing the burden and the bread. He was legendarily hospitable to a fault and his heart truly resided in his hearth. What makes the pain of missing Rob so hard is that we have lost his kind, caring presence—the greater the love the harder the loss.

The day after I received those baleful three words, “Did you hear?” I attended a yoga class. Our instructor led us to savasana, the corpse pose, declaring it “…the most important posture in your practice.” As my tears fell to the floor, I realized that you spend your whole life preparing for the final rest. Rob not only realized that he couldn’t do it all, he knew that at some distant point he wouldn’t be doing anything. He just got there much sooner than he and all of us hoped.  

I know Rob would be dismayed with the bullshit consolation prize of dying while doing what you loved. He would never want his undoing to prevent others from sharing in the great love and joy he fostered in such wild, beautiful places. Rob was the complete guide, informed and engaged in mind and body and his ruin was simply an accident, being in the wrong place at the right time. Instead of reasoning, “Well, if it can happen to him,” know that the end awaits us all and though we may not know the moment and means of our death we can endeavor mightily to determine the manner and measure of our living.

Edi, Chad, and Rob

Rob led by example, like the sharp-end in climbing, and he embodied the qualities he deemed essential for a good life. Though he wisely inhabited the center of his existence, he made more than ample, loving room for his family, friends, and greater community. More than memories or mementos, I am left with feeling. 

A hollow forms when a core person disappears. And like a sponge that needs holes to absorb, I have decided to use the space that his death has created to soak up as much of the joy of living, the passion of adventure, and the love of humanity and the planet that Rob gifted us. Thank you brother!

We, and the world, need more Rob.

Rob and his sons Dominic and Luca in Italy

Rob Coppollio was a longtime contributing editor to Elevation Outdoors and the author of the popular Master of None blog on this site. He was a dear friend of so many of us at this magazine.

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