Mountaineer, pioneering Vail ski instructor

Passing Date: 
Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Dick Pownall, 89, passed away on December 6, 2016. 

In 1947, at age 20, Pownall was one of the original climbing guides at the Exum Guide Service in Teton National Park, where he put up many classic routes, and married climber Mary Flint. He spent winters teaching physical education and math at Lakewood High School near Denver.

Invited to join the 1963 American Mount Everest Expedition, Pownall helped to pioneer a first ascent of the Southeast Ridge route—but lost his climbing partner, Jake Breitenbach, when a serac collapsed in the Khumbu Icefall. 

Back in the States that summer, Pownall built a cabin in the new Vail Village, helped by his family and friends. He joined the original Vail Ski School, and a few years later launched his own school of mountaineering in the Gore Range. Meanwhile, he became a principal in the Jefferson County School District. 

In 1979, Dick married Mary Rheinberger, and in 1987 the couple moved to Vail full time. For 23 years they headed the race volunteers for the World Cup and World Alpine Championships in Vail. 

Pownall is preceded in death by his stepson, Mark. He is survived by his children Betsy (Billy) and David (Rita); stepchildren Darcy (Mike), Cinda, Steve and Kevin (Barb); and many grandchildren. 

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