Hundreds gather in Vail to embrace the life of Emily Franciose

Local killed in an avalanche remembered for her zest for life and ability to bring people together

Emily Franciose's teachers and friends from her school in Switzerland speak during her remembrance Sunday at Vail Mountain School in East Vail. Franciose was killed in an avalanche during the winter in Switzerland.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

EAST VAIL — Emily Franciose’s greatest gift was her ability to bring people together.

It was pure magic. At least that’s how Henry Prince, one of Franciose’s teenage friends, described it Sunday while speaking to an overflow audience at Vail Mountain School’s auditorium during a memorial for Emily.

“You brought some of the most random people together,” Prince said. “Sometimes people who hated each other. Whatever magic and witchcraft you performed, we’d have the greatest of times. Enemies would become friends. Two groups who couldn’t stand each other before were now sitting on the same couch laughing uncontrollably at some stupid joke.”

That theme of community, of love, of pulling people in close, or finding a way to make them laugh, ran through each of the speeches at Sunday’s memorial, which drew hundreds to the East Vail campus.

And at the center of it was Emily, a smiling wizard who loved great music, delicious food, hilarious jokes, colorful fashion, outdoor adventures, globetrotting, and pretty much anyone who came into her orbit.

Support Local Journalism

Franciose, an expert backcountry skier, was swept away by a large avalanche in Switzerland’s Bernese Alps on March 21 while skiing with classmates and staff from Ecole d’Humanité, the boarding school she’d chosen for her final year of high school.

Classmates and teachers from the Swiss school traveled to Vail for the memorial, as did members of Emily’s large extended family from across the country. They were joined in the auditorium and in the school’s library by scores of Vail locals who knew and loved Emily and her parents, Reg and Sue.

People watch speakers in the overflow area during the memorial for Emily Franciose on Sunday at Vail Mountain School in East Vail. Hundreds showed up with overflow in the commons and library.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

‘She completed my world’

Sue, who spoke last, called her relationship with her daughter “unbelievably powerful.”

“We built a uniquely beautiful, strong bond over the years,” she said. “I have no regrets. We said everything we wanted and needed to say. She knew how I felt. She was my life. She completed my world. And how wonderful it is to know that she felt the same way about me. I’m so grateful for that gift.”

Reg, a trauma surgeon at Vail Health Hospital and the longtime medical director of Vail Ski Patrol who is now partially retired, had the audience laughing as he told stories about Emily coming of age and testing his limits.

“We would speak like adults and the more it went on, the more likely she would best me,” he said. “I’m a smart guy and I usually don’t get pushed around much. So I said to Emily one day, ‘Where’d you get this freaking attitude?’ And she goes, ‘It’s called genetics.'”

Reg also talked about how Emily had grown up on the river with him and Sue, always in the front of the boat. But during their last river trips together, Emily would start out in the front of the raft, and after lunch, grabbed the back seat, letting her father know she’d overtaken him as a paddler.

He also told the story of how his daughter had stolen a favorite T-shirt of his over the years, which said: “Vail Ski Patrol — Hauling Ass since ’62.” She would wear it under a hoodie to Vail Mountain School, where she attended from kindergarten through her junior year, as a cheeky way of flouting the dress code. And she’d taken it to Switzerland with her. Reg described the painful experience of him and Sue packing up Emily’s belongings from her room at Ecole d’Humanité, unable to find the shirt.

That’s when Reg said he studied the last photo taken of Emily on the day she was in the avalanche. He caught a glimpse of the identifiable red cross on the shirt under her ski gear. As always, Emily was smiling.

Emily Franciose’s friends from Vail Mountain School share memories of her during her memorial Sunday at Vail Mountain School in East Vail.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

Always laughs

Franciose’s classmates and teachers at VMS and in Switzerland, as well as family members, all told stories about how Emily always had a way of finding the levity in life.

Ben Orlinsky, who moved to Vail two years ago, said Emily took him under her wing as he adjusted to his new school in a new town. That included nudging him to join the telemarking team at VMS, and picking him and another classmate up every morning for school in a car she’d lovingly named “Shelly the S—box.”

“Us three made the carpool dream team, spending each morning singing and laughing, almost singlehandedly saving the world one carpool ride at a time,” he said, to laughs. “In those car rides, Emily showed me that friendship should be easy and life wasn’t to be taken so seriously all the time. Emily, with a little help from Shelly, took me everywhere she went like we were attached at the hip.”

Prince spoke of fun days on the river and at Nottingham Lake, and nights gazing up at the stars on top of water towers. He also talked about how he and Emily went to Walmart wearing hazmat suits just to see the looks on shoppers’ faces. Maia Stark, Emily’s roommate in Switzerland, got laughs when she mentioned the hilarious Southern accent that Emily would affect, telling Stark, “You’re ma wife.”

“About a month into our roommate relationship, we had to start mopping our floor as a part of our weekly cleaning routine,” Maia Stark said. “Because when we would brush our teeth every evening, usually I would come back into the room so that we could continue talking. And she would without fail make me laugh so uncontrollably that I would drool toothpaste.”

Greg Lam and James Noah, both older cousins of Emily’s who spent time living at Reg and Sue’s house in West Vail, had a front-row seat for watching Emily grow up. Each talked about the generosity of Reg and Sue, and how much of an old soul their daughter was.

“She belonged wherever she went, and that is an amazing attribute,” Lam said.

He added that an old family joke was that everyone loved to say, “When I grow up, I want to be Emily Franciose.”

“I still do,” Lam said. “And that will never change.”

Photos of Emily Franciose tell the story of a well-lived life at her memorial Sunday at Vail Mountain School in East Vail.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

The soundtrack to life

Lynne Franciose, one of Emily’s aunts, said one of her favorite memories with her niece was sharing favorite songs, which they’d often do when they got together with a quirky routine she dubbed Dark Floor Loud Listening — or DFLL.

“We would do this at my house, usually at night laying on the floor, sometimes holding hands, calling out to the smart speaker for a favorite tune played loud,” Lynne said. “Maybe you could picture yourself there with us, the music making us laugh, smile and moving us, lifting us, soothing us. For Emily and me, sharing songs also kept us close while we were miles apart.”

Lynne brought up that she’d also lost a child, her son Ryan, in an accident in Denver, and that Sue and Reg offered her immense support as she dealt with her grief. 

“Before I go, I was remembering a dream that I had about Ryan after he passed away,” she said. “He stopped what he was doing to show me some of his specialty hugs. It was glorious. He had all these different ways of hugging. He demonstrated on me, which made me feel that he was really in my arms. Going on without Emily, as without Ryan, feels unimaginable and impossible at times. If there’s any comfort, especially to Sue and Reg, it may be you get it from the family that embraces them. And perhaps also knowing that Ryan Franciose is now holding Emily Franciose in his glorious hug.”

Sue, in her closing, said that her dream for her daughter was to live an extraordinary life filled with incredible experiences and adventures.

“How lucky she was to be in control of her life, living fearlessly,” Sue said. “Becoming the best version of herself possible. Being passionate about so many things. All on her own terms. Not many people ever achieve that. I’ve learned a lot in the past few months. And I know that Reg and I will find a way to move forward with grace and peace. Life is short. And it doesn’t always seem fair. Live as if today is your last day. Emily Grace Franciose certainly did.”

Support Local Journalism