SF adventure-seeker dies in Montana avalanche

Four skiers were hiking in a rugged stretch of the Tobacco Root Mountains, just south of the tiny Montana town of Pony, on Friday when the ground began shaking — an avalanche.

The group was ascending a steep, forested slope in the range — which contains 43 peaks, some towering at elevations greater than 10,000 feet — when a wall of snow barreled down the mountain. Half of the group survived by gripping onto pine trees. The two other skiers were caught, trapped and buried in the snow, one sustaining serious injuries that required an air-lift to a hospital.

The fourth skier, Benjamin Hirsch-McShane, 35, of San Francisco, died.

He was an adventurous man with a wide smile and ruddy-colored hair that brushed his shoulders. He and his wife, Sarah McShane, 36, had built travel into their lives — once quitting their jobs and spending more than a year and a half traveling across the United States, and then the world. They ticked off 18 countries, including Colombia, Spain, Morocco and Italy. They went to Burning Man with a camp called Apocalypse Wow, biking through the white Nevada dust, and married in 2015 on a white sand beach in Tulum, Mexico.

They probably lived more life in nearly four decades than most people do in a lifetime, McShane said.

Hirsch-McShane loved to ski — anytime, anywhere, but particularly in the backcountry snow. His favorite places ranged from Chamonix, France, to Beaver Creek, Utah, and Lake Tahoe. That’s what he was doing in Montana when he died — skiing and “having the time of (his) life,” his family said, adding that he was the “happiest in the world when he was skiing.”

The Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center said Hirsch-McShane’s death was the eighth caused by an avalanche in the U.S. this month.

Hirsch-McShane’s last Instagram post was in Aspen, Colo., posed on top of a mountain without a coat. His hair was pulled back, and he beamed. Snow dusted his yellow skis. In the background, the sharp peaks of distant ranges pierced the gray sky.

He grew up in Denver, but moved to San Francisco in 2007 to work for Passport Capital. In the past decade, he worked at three global hedge funds. Recently, he was a portfolio manager focused on self-driving vehicle strategy for Ibex Investors. But he cared most about his wife, his big family — including six siblings — and traveling the world.

He and McShane had a big trip to China planned for this spring. And they wanted to have their first baby.

“Tell the ones you love that you love them and cherish them,” McShane wrote Sunday on Facebook. “Don’t take a single moment for granted because it could be the last. How do I say goodbye to my best friend and partner-in-crime for seven years?”

Lizzie Johnson is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: ljohnson@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @LizzieJohnsonnn

This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Adventurous-San-Francisco-man-35-dies-in-13565933.php.

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