Friends, family remember avalanche victim |

Friends, family remember avalanche victim

Matt Stensland
Steamboat Pilot & Today

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Friends and family of Jesse Christensen remember him as a talented artist, musician, devout Mormon and a genuine cowboy who deeply loved his family.

"He cared about you," Christensen's younger sister Aimee Stephens Bonham said. "He looked you in the eye. He engaged you."

The 55-year-old Steamboat Springs man died tragically in an avalanche Tuesday in the Flat Tops Wilderness. Sean Searle, the friend he was riding snow bikes with, survived.

"This one's gonna hit a lot of people," Christensen's friend Kim Haggarty said. "It is a huge, huge loss."

Those who did not know Christensen personally probably have at least heard his music. He would play his guitar at Steamboat Springs restaurants and bars. For the past several years, he has played at Aurum Food & Wine on Thursday nights — often with his son, one of six children.

"He was just such a nice guy," Aurum owner Phil Armstrong said. "Every week there was a loyal following of people that wanted to see Jesse. He had a real presence to him."

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There will be a dozen musicians playing Christensen's favorite songs from 6 to 9 p.m. today at Aurum.

"I think it's going to be an amazing night," Haggarty said.

Christensen was also known to be an impressive dancer.

"He could dance like George Michael did," Stephens Bonham said.

Christensen owned Infinity Finishes, a painting company that went beyond painting white interior walls. Stephens Bonham said Christensen was a craftsman who had a knack for turning wood into pieces of art. He also was commissioned to do paintings at the Schmiggity's bar.

She said Christensen learned most of his talents, such as playing the guitar, on his own.

"If he wanted to know it, he would learn it," Stephens Bonham said. "He could do anything he put his mind to."

'Just like all of us'

While growing up in Wyoming, Christensen helped neighbors with cattle drives. At his Routt County ranch, Christensen tended to horses.

"Not just a guy who wore a cowboy hat," Stephens Bonham said. "He did cowboy stuff."

He was also a good-looking cowboy and had modeled western wear for Cowboys and Indians Magazine.

Christensen was a committed Mormon who was very involved with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Steamboat Springs. When he was 19, he went on a two-year mission trip to South Africa.

His faith was reflected in the way he led his life.

Ron Wendler said Christensen was a good listener and very friendly to everyone.

"He was the type of guy who would do anything for anybody," Wendler said.

Christensen also liked to have fun, and Wendler spent many powder days riding snowmobiles with him in the backcountry.

"Surfing the snow," Wendler said. "Just like all of us. Pulling the throttle."

Wendler said Christensen was always fun to be around and fun to ride with.

"We know he's in a really nice place," Wendler said. "Hopefully, I'll be riding with him again someday."

After Routt County Search and Rescue found Christensen on Tuesday, Garfield County Search and Rescue returned Wednesday to retrieve the body.

U.S. Forest Service and Search and Rescue officials confirmed Wednesday that Christensen and Searle had been riding in a wilderness area, where motorized vehicles are prohibited.

An autopsy will be done later this week. The manner of death is being investigated as accidental. The cause of death will not be released until after the autopsy.

"Our condolences to the Christensen family and the Steamboat community," Garfield County Coroner Robert Glassmire said.