Victor, Idaho resident Aaron Jay Linnell, 39, better known to his friends as A.J., died in a small plane crash in the Frank Church Wilderness in central Idaho on Friday, April 10. He was returning from a project site at a remote ranch when the plane went down shortly after takeoff. A.J. and the plane's three other occupants, including his two friends and Creative Energies coworkers, Rusty Cheney and Andy Tyson, were all killed.
A.J. was born in Greeley, Colorado, on December 24, 1975 to Sheri and Tom Linnell. His sister, Erica, joined the family in 1979. The Linnells moved to Fort Collins when A.J. was a baby and that was where he lived until he went to Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon. A.J. graduated from Lewis and Clark in 1999 with a degree in English Literature.
A.J.'s life in the outdoors began at an early age. His parents took him cross-country skiing in a backpack when he was an infant. As soon as he began walking, he got his own set of skis. In the summer the Linnells traded their skis for bikes, and when A.J. was 15, they toured Europe as a family on their bicycles. A.J. always credited his parents with instilling in him a love of the outdoors and desire to challenge himself in athletic pursuits. A psychologist (Tom) and a sports medicine educator (Sheri), the couple created the perfect storm in A.J. who became one of the nation's best singlespeed mountain bikers, a highly skilled ski mountaineer, a talented mountain guide and an amazingly gifted athlete whose focus and determination took him to great heights during his life.
And yet, as fiercely competitive as A.J. could be in a mountain bike race and as driven as he was to push himself in the mountains, he had a special ability to be in the moment with whomever or wherever he found himself. Friends say that he was as happy skiing beginner terrain with students as he was snowboarding the Grand Teton. Life was about the experience for him, and he relished all of it. His drive to succeed was internal. He did not seek accolades, just the reward of the moment, and the relationships and places those moments brought to him. He approached everyday a�" and every challenge a�" as a new adventure to which he committed himself with heart and soul.
On his blog, Playing With Gravity, A.J. wrote: "Not knowing makes the adventure exciting, and a little scary, and challenging, and ... worth it. And it's often the unexpected outcomes of a day's adventuring that become the most memorable parts of the day. It's the not knowing that makes it all worth doing."
In college A.J. spent a semester with the National Outdoor Leadership School in Patagonia, Chile, where one of his instructors from that course remembers him as, "the best student. Ever." He returned to the states, finished college and took a NOLS instructor course. This launched his career as an outdoor educator and mountain guide for NOLS, and later the American Alpine Institute and Yostmark Backcountry Tours. He worked across the globe, but most special to him was leading expeditions on Denali in Alaska and backcountry ski tours in the Tetons.
NOLS is also where he met his true love, Erica DeBois Linnell. The pair married in Teton Valley, Idaho, in September 2005. A.J. continued to guide internationally, but wanted to devote more time to life with Erica and his Teton Valley community. They settled permanently in Victor, building a LEED-certified home and became active members of their community. A.J. served on the Planning and Zoning Commission for the city of Victor and later, in 2013, as a Victor City Councilman. He worked as an installer for a solar energy company, was studying to become a journeyman electrician, trained for competitive bicycle racing, and guided ski and snowboard clients throughout the Tetons. Somehow, A.J. also found time to volunteer to build hiking and biking trails and to groom local Nordic ski trails.
In a Facebook tribute to A.J., a close friend wrote about the lessons he taught her: "Work hard and have fun. Love your dog. Listen more, talk less. Make your community a better place. Give big smiles and bigger hugs. Never boast; let your actions do the talking." A.J. would add one thing to that list: Get outside. In a newspaper article from 2002, he said, "It doesn't take much to get outdoors, and you don't have to be good at anything to enjoy the quiet."
A.J. will be remembered most for his ever-present smile, his kindness, his humility, and his unconditional love and devotion to his wife Erica.
A.J. is survived by his beloved wife, his parents, his sister and his dog Rue.
A memorial trails fund has been established in AJ's honor. For donation information, please contact Tim Adams, Executive Director, Teton Valley Trails and Pathways (TVTAP), 208-201-1622; email@example.com; www.tvtap.org.