Coronavirus concerns prompt American Alpine Club to conduct benefit dinner remotely

Posted on: March 12, 2020

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic—which recently reached Colorado—has prompted the American Alpine Club (AAC) to make changes to its annual benefit dinner (ABD), which is the club's biggest fundraiser of the year. This Saturday, March 14, instead of eating steak and prawns while rubbing elbows with climbing legends, guests are now invited to attend the event online as a "Virtual ABD," starting at 5 p.m. Mountain Time.


"We've never livestreamed an event before, so it will be interesting to see how it goes," said AAC Marketing and Membership Director Shane Johnson. "The nice thing is that this will be available to everybody, not just the guests who bought tickets to attend the dinner."

Guests pay hundreds of dollars for tickets. While the club is offering refunds to those who ask, Johnson said the AAC is hoping ticket-holders will consider their purchases as donations that will help the club continue its work (more about that below). So far, not many people have asked for refunds since the cancelation of the in-person gathering was announced on Monday, March 9.

"We are very fortunate to have good people as members," Johnson said.

Geof Childs is receiving the H. Adams Carter Literary Award at the American Alpine Club's annual benefit dinner on March 14. The in-person gathering was canceled because of concerns about the Coronavirus pandemic, and the event will be livestreamed online instead. [Photo] Geof Childs collectionGeof Childs is receiving the H. Adams Carter Literary Award at the American Alpine Club's annual benefit dinner on March 14. The in-person gathering was canceled because of concerns about the coronavirus pandemic, and the event will be livestreamed online instead. [Photo] Geof Childs collection

Event sponsors Patagonia and Global Rescue will match donations through Friday, March 20. Information about how to access the livestream, enter a donation or bid in the silent auction can be found on the American Alpine Club's website here.

This year's dinner was scheduled to take place in Denver, Colorado, which is essentially the club's home turf (the AAC headquarters is in Golden). Keynote speaker Kris McDivitt Tompkins' speech was going to be prerecorded anyway, as it has been known for several months that she wouldn't be able to travel for the event.

The AAC's website describes her career:

Former CEO of Patagonia and current president of Tompkins Conservation, Kris is a true champion for the earth. She and her late husband Doug Tompkins turned millions of acres across Chile and Argentina into National Parks in an effort to restore and re-wild landscapes. Most recently, Kris completed the largest private land donation in history, with over one million acres going towards creating or expanding ten national parks in Chile. To date, Tompkins Conservation has helped conserve more than 14.2 million acres.

Kris McDivitt Tompkins. [Photo] Courtesy of the American Alpine ClubKris McDivitt Tompkins. [Photo] Courtesy of the American Alpine Club

American Alpine Club Awards

Some of the club's highest honors are also presented at the annual benefit. Recipients who live nearby will attend the small gathering at the AAC auditorium in Golden, where the livestream will be recorded, while other awardees will prerecord their speeches. A club press release reads:

This year's awardees include climbing legends Tom Hornbein and Jamie Logan, and cutting edge climber Jackson Marvell. Access Fund founders Rick Accomazzo, Randy Vogel, and Armando Menocal, conservationist Josh Ewing, author Geof Childs, and longtime AAC volunteer David Thoenen will also receive awards....

President's Gold Medal: Thomas Hornbein, MD, famous for the 1963 first ascent of Everest's West Ridge, will receive the rarely awarded President's Gold Medal "for significant contributions to the climbing community." Tom recently received the 2019 Heilprin Citation for his lifelong work to "maintain and strengthen the American Alpine Club." Previous awardees of the President's Gold Medal include the 1963 Everest team and two-time recipient Nicholas Clinch.

The Robert and Miriam Underhill Award: The AAC Underhill Selection Committee has chosen Jamie Logan as the 2020 Underhill Award recipient for "demonstrating the highest level of skill in the mountaineering arts." Jamie's achievements include the first free ascent of the Diamond on Longs Peak in Colorado and her impressive first ascent of the Emperor Face on Mt. Robson in British Columbia.

Honorary Membership: Access Fund founders Rick Accomazzo, Randy Vogel, and Armando Menocal will accept the 2020 Honorary Membership Award for their instrumental work in launching the Access Fund, creating a "lasting and highly significant impact on the advancement of the climbing craft."

The Robert Hicks Bates Award: Jackson Marvell joins an impressive group of recipients of The Robert Hicks Bates Award, which honors young climbers who show "outstanding promise for future accomplishment." Jackson's accomplishments included establishing Ruth Gorge Grinder, a significant new route on Mt. Dickey's East Face, and the first ascent of a 7,000-meter peak in Pakistan. Past Bates Award recipients include Alex Honnold, Chris Sharma, Tommy Caldwell, Steph Davis, Hayden Kennedy, Colin Haley, Sasha DiGiulian, Margo Hayes and Brette Harrington.

The David R. Brower Award: Josh Ewing, Executive Director of Friends of Cedar Mesa, will be awarded the David R. Brower Conservation Award for his "leadership and commitment to preserving mountain regions worldwide." Josh was selected based on his long-time leadership in the protection of Southeastern Utah's iconic Red Rock Desert lands and his role in challenging the legality of the Presidential proclamation removing protections for Bears Ears National Monument.

The H. Adams Carter Literary Award: The AAC Literary Committee is proud to award Geof Childs The H. Adams Carter Literary Award. Geof Childs is a longtime contributing editor to Rock & Ice and the author of Stone Palaces, a collection of essays and fiction. In his introduction to Stone Palaces, Geof asks, "How do you explain obsessive love to someone who does not share your passion? How do you rationalize the contradictions of climbing: its brilliant triviality and sublime uselessness, its beauty and hardship?" His book neither "explains" nor "rationalizes," but provides its readers with a vision of the climbing life that is insightful, true, and beautiful. [Alpinist Editor-in-Chief Katie Ives received the award in 2016.]

Heilprin Citation: David Thoenen will be awarded the 2020 Heilprin Citation for his "exemplary service to the Club." David is a decades-long AAC volunteer who has provided support to the AAC Board of Directors and served as the Triangle Chapter Chair.

aac logo

How the American Alpine Club Uses Donations

The club's webpage for the event explains the its mission:

The future of climbing, and all outdoor recreation, depends on a bounty of healthy open spaces and the ability to visit and enjoy them. Your tax-deductible gift to the American Alpine Club helps the members and volunteers pursue these core values of the Club:

Protecting Public Lands: To ensure that public lands remain public, that they are well-resourced and that important conservation tools (like the Antiquities Act) are preserved so climbers can continue to practice their craft on the lands we love.

Ensuring Lands are Open for Human-Powered Recreation: To streamline and update exclusionary permitting policies to ensure that climbers, guides and other organizations can get the permits they need to provide facilitated climbing experiences.

Safeguarding Fragile Mountain and Climbing Environments: To understand our mountain and climbing environments, to promote sustainable use and effective management and to bring awareness to the impacts of a changing climate on the landscapes that inspire us.

Combating Climate Change: To mitigate the effects of climate change through political advocacy, scientific research, and developing resources for members to make sustainable choices as they plan trips and expeditions. As an outdoor community whose ethos is inextricably linked to healthy mountain environments, the AAC is committed to fighting climate change.

This will be Phil Powers' final benefit dinner as club CEO.

Saturday's livestream will be recorded and available to watch later, but Johnson said the club hopes people will show support by tuning in live "to help with energy and momentum."

Phil Powers in the Tetons. [Photo] Sarah PiercePhil Powers in the Tetons. [Photo] Sarah Pierce

Here at Alpinist, our small editorial staff works hard to create in-depth stories that are thoughtfully edited, thoroughly fact-checked and beautifully designed. Please consider supporting our efforts by subscribing.