A dude and a gentleman
Remembering the man, the myth, the legend, Dave Diaz
Missy Votel - 02/23/2023
The first time I met Dave Diaz was around 2005. I had just moved into a new house downtown with my husband, toddler and newborn. Dave lived a few doors down in what was known as “The Blue House,” a somewhat notorious college dude den of questionable repute (it went by another name, as well, but decorum prevents me from printing it here). Anyway, it was a beautiful summer day, and I was out in front of my house, probably taking a break from diaper duty and obviously looking like I could use a cold beverage. Right about then, Dave strolled by toting a 12-pack of Miller High Life.
A yellow beer connoisseur myself, I complimented him on his fine choice of the Champagne of Beers. Without missing a beat, he reached into the cardboard box, fished out a bottle, handed it to me and said “cheers.”
Little did I know that day marked the beginning of a nearly 20-year friendship with a man who would go on to marry and have two boys with one of my oldest friends in Durango (incidentally one of the toughest chicks I know). He would go on to become a beer league hockey teammate, a kayaking, biking and skiing buddy, and someone whose deadpan humor delivered the best joke I’ve ever heard in my life (again, decorum prohibits me, and I never do it justice in the retelling anyway. Suffice to say, it entails two Canadians, a bar and a punchline about a large ungulate’s genitalia).
Dave was a man who was king of the one-liners, who wasn’t afraid to tell someone to “get the sand out” when necessary and rocked a ’stache like no one’s business. But he was also a man who was amazingly gentle, sweet and devoted to his young boys and rode a pink BMX bike with pride at the skate park. A fixture in the lift line on every powder day, his snow sports and hockey prowess belied his Puerto Rican heritage. He was a rad snowboarding bro who didn’t mind hanging with a dorky, old lady skier. He wore Vans mountain biking but still kicked everyone’s ass on the downhill while stopping to admire the wildflowers. He was the first to strip down to bike skivvies and dad bod to join you in a dip in a freezing alpine lake. He would encourage you to run the rowdy line but not shame you for taking the sneak and cheer you on from the surf eddy. And, he was a man who ended every conversation or text not with sappy sentiment or banal chit chat but with a simple and concise: “Word.”
Little did I also know that lasting friendship would come to a sudden, shocking and horrific end last Friday.
I had just finished skiing and ran into friends in the Purg parking lot. We were sipping beers and rehashing the day, when another friend walked up to his car, which was parked nearby.
We exchanged hellos, and the other friend asked if I had heard about … and his voice trailed off.
He had a grim look on his face, so I walked over to hear him over the apres din.
“I’m sorry, did I hear about who?” I asked.
“Diaz,” he said. “Dave Diaz.”
From the look on his face, I knew it was not great news. I began scanning through the mental Rolodex of bad scenarios – car accident? Injury? Covid?
But instead it was the worst-case scenario.
“He was skiing the trees … something happened … and he didn’t make it,” the friend stammered.
Suddenly, the Friday afternoon vibe shattered, and the ugly face of denial set in as I peppered the messenger with useless questions. Questions you know are cliche, but you ask anyway because you can’t stop yourself.
“Wait - what!? Dave Diaz? Are you sure? What do you mean he ‘didn’t make it?’”
My friend only hung his head and shook it back and forth. He was still processing the news himself, having only heard it moments before.
He relayed the scant details he had of the accident, and we both stood there, stupefied.
Suddenly, my slushy beer was no longer appealing. I threw the can down and stomped it with my ski boot repeatedly because I didnt know what else to do. I remember fixating on the golden slush as it oozed from the can, thinking if I just could make it disappear into the icy ground, everything else would disappear too.
But it didn’t. The can was still there, and the fact that Dave was somehow gone from this world, and I would never run the river or ski powder with him or hear his jokes ever again, slowly began eating away at the edges of my subconscious.
We stood there, both in shock and at a loss. We did the only thing two friends in pain could do when there are no words and hugged for a long time.
I thanked him for breaking the news to me, said a few incoherent things to my parking lot crew and numbly stumbled to my car. Before I had unlocked my car door, my phone rang with the first of many calls from Dave’s huge orbit of friends.
See, like many adventurous-spirited young men who move to the mountains, Dave lived large and made many friends along the way. Sure, sometimes his lifestyle was a detriment to himself – and others – but his love for life was infectious and impossible to deny. He was by no means perfect – but then again, who wants to hang out with perfect people? I believe it was his flaws, foibles, humility and vulnerabilities that endeared him to so many.
Strangely enough, right around the time Dave left this earthly realm, I was taking a lonely ride on Chair 5 at Purg and thought about him. I hadn’t seen him in a while and thought how I needed to hook up for a ski date with my old pal.
But that date will never come, and all I now have is memories of the last time we skied together. It was a powder day, and I picked him up early. When he got in my car, he proudly presented a tin-foil wrapped sandwich he had made for me: Croissant, ham and cheese.
Now, anyone who knows me, knows I am more of a nuts and berries girl. As we drove, and I subjected him to ’70s music to calm my white-knuckle nerves (to which he never complained), I slyly stashed the sandwich in my car door pocket with no intention of eating it.
But when we got done skiing for the day, I found myself famished. I pulled out the foil package and devoured the shit out of that cold, cheesy, greasy, glutinous mess. And it was delicious.
Because hanging with Dave had that effect – live life to the fullest; press glass on that epic powder day; hoot and holler through the trees; run the meat through the Whitewater Park even though it scares the crap out of you; and hell yeah, eat that giant fat bomb of a sandwich when you’re all done. Because life is meant to be lived, savored and enjoyed.
Of course, even though Dave would fully agree with this sentiment, he would never say it. Too mushy; too dramatic; too ... too. Instead, he would look at you with his gigantic mustachioed grin and let four letters sum up the moment perfectly: “Word.”
Special thanks to the Purgatory Ski Patrol, who had the very difficult job of being the first responders on the scene of Dave’s accident. An educational trust fund for his sons, Tucker, 7, and Milo, 4, has been set up on gofundme. A celebration of Dave’s life and silent auction will be held from 2-5 p.m. Sat., Feb. 25, at the Elks Lodge in Durango.