‘Heart of Gold’ honored at mountain top
The hundreds of people who packed Beaver Creek’s Saddle Ridge Lodge Saturday erupted into cheers, hollers, stomps and screams. Moments earlier, Brock Fetch had asked the crowd of mourners to demonstrate their love for local pro snowboarder Josh Malay, who died last week at age 23 after a crash in the Spanish Pyrenees.
The memorial service was held atop Malay’s favorite mountain. The large crowd was a testimony to what many called Malay’s “heart of gold,” and to the many lives friend say he touched.
“I think we should all feel very lucky to have experienced Josh,” friend and boss Jimmy Delong told the crowd. “Knowing someone like Josh is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“I want to thank Josh for picking Beaver Creek and all of us to share his ‘Malay-isms’ with,” Delong continued. “He’d walk right up to you and smile, say, ‘Hi, I’m Josh.’ That’s rare.”
The ceremony began with a salute from the Beaver Creek Ski Patrol, as the crowd stood in silent reverence.
“The patrol called me when they heard about the accident,” said Fetch, Malay’s friend and co-worker at the Other Side snowboard shop. “They wanted to do whatever they could for Josh.
“They said they had a very special love-hate relationship with him – he was either tuning their boards or they were taking away his pass,” Fetch said with a grin.
Those who spoke at the service painted a picture of a passionate, loving, wildly fun friend.
“As a person, he was certainly inspirational,” said friend Eric Warble. “His energy was so vibrant you couldn’t help but to feed off it. He was my ultimate hero.
“It’s pretty trippy having your best friend be your hero also,” Warble said. “I want to be just like Josh Malay – don’t we all?”
No one forgot to weave Malay’s irreverent nature into their descriptions.
“He was a pain in the ass to manage as an employee,” said Delong with a grin. “And as he got better at snowboarding, the situation only got worse. Josh would tell me the hours he wanted and I would give him those hours.”
“He was a free spirit, a punk rocker, a pain in the ass, but also a professional,” he said.
Malay’s brother Sean talked about his brother’s tough veneer, but said Malay also had a softer side.
“Behind the skulls, the middle fingers and the swear words, Josh was really just a big wuss,” Sean Malay said.
“He was funny, compassionate – he lived to make everyone’s lives better,” added longtime friend Nell Davembaugh. “But he was brutally honest – he wasn’t just gonna say what you wanted to hear.”
And many contended that Malay’s individuality, commitment and passion not only made him sometimes difficult, but also brought him enormous success as a snowboarder.
“Josh Malay was snowboarding,” Warble said without hesitation.
“He told me I inspired him,” said a fellow rider who gave his name as ‘DCP.’ “But he inspired me so much. He had that spark in his eye, he loved snowboarding, he loved improving.”
Malay had great promise and potential, his friends said.
“I want to say it was the peak of his career, but it was really just the beginning,” said Delong.
“When Josh came here,” Warble added, “he was a step above and beyond anything we’d seen in the Valley.”
Friend Rob Bak agreed.
“To our local pro, our hero, our inspiration, thanks for giving the mountain life,” Bak said.
‘A heart this big’
In a short film created by friend Ryan Conway, the audience got a taste of Malay’s talent – and his humor, wildness and uncontainable spirit.
“It’s gonna make us laugh, it’s gonna make us cry,” said Conway of the film. “We had a lot of fun together.”
Others spoke of how Malay enriched their lives off the mountain with his friendship.
“Josh was the first person I met when I moved here three years ago,” Fetch said. “I spent so much time with him, he’s not even a snowboarder to me anymore, he’s just my best friend.
“It’s hard to find a person like Josh, a person that everyone could relate to,” he continued. “No one in this town had a bad thing to say about him.”
“I feel fortunate and honored to have had a relationship with Josh,” added friend Jeff Potto. “We fed off each other.”
And friend Kyle Schnieberger said, “He did everything with excitement, embraced every day, he was such a special individual.”
Eric “The Gurge” Feldman was another close friend of Malay’s. When Feldman began working at the Other Side snowboard shop at age 13, Malay took him under his arm.
“He and Gurge both loved the guitar so much,” said Fetch. “Josh never gave up on Gurge.”
In tribute Saturday, Feldman played Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold,” a song also featured in Conway’s short film. In fact, it seems Malay’s own heart of gold was the theme of the memorial. A picture of the handsome young man, arms outstretched, adorned the cover of the memorial pamphlet. The phrase “A Heart This Big” was scribbled across the photo. Many agreed this phrase said it all.
“He’s sitting up there hoping we can be happy, so we’ve got to do it,” said Conway.
“For him to influence so many amazing people shows how amazing he truly was,” said Warble, looking around at the standing-room-only crowd.
Party won’t end
It seemed that the memorial was a celebration of not only what Malay gave his friends, but also of what they had given him.
Malay’s father Tom stepped forward to briefly address the crowd.
“From his family to you,” he said. “You are all family.”
“You guys are all he talked about,” added brother Sean.
Mother Pat Malay spoke of her joy upon looking across, “the sea of faces together in a celebration of Josh’s life.” She listed those who had supported her throughout the devastating ordeal in Spain, including Josh’s manager, “Ninja.”
“You have been my reason, my serenity,” she said to her supporters. “Thank you all so much for taking care of Josh. He’ll be with you forever.”
A deeply comforting sense of permanence coursed through the entire service, as each speaker pointed out that Malay would never be far. John Aldridge, father of Maylay’s girlfriend Lynsi, spoke of the infallible nature of love.
“Life has a beginning and an end, but love lasts forever,” he said.
Others agreed that the party will never end.
“Throughout his whole life, his entire thing was to have a good time,” said a longtime friend named J.D. “He chose his destiny all the way through the end. He died doing what he loved.
“I know sometime he and I will be together again,” J.D. added. “And we’ll have a beer and laugh.”
Perhaps Delong’s final words to the crowd were the most fitting.
“Try to be like Josh, love Josh, remember Josh. Thank you, Josh, for all you’ve given us.”