Unicorns are the mythical creatures woven into folklore from ancient Greek times through European medieval periods, and even today as a basis for internet memes and emo T-shirts.
But maybe they’re not so mythical. Perhaps the unicorn has evolved over the ages and manifests in our lives today.
After careful consideration, I have come to the conclusion that Adam Palmer, 49, was indeed a unicorn, a mythical beast of lore whose impact, consequence and significance will endure lifetimes.
The Colorado Sun invited close friends to memorialize Andy Jessen, Adam Palmer and Seth Bossung, three influential Eagle County men who were killed Feb. 1, 2021, in a massive avalanche near Silverton. Read all of the remembrances here.
My friend Adam left us last week, swept away in an avalanche alongside two friends in the San Juans.
Adam’s personality was infectious, always smiling, ever positive, and people were drawn to him. His presence was felt extensively throughout our mountain community in such a rare and unique way, a way that only a unicorn could pull off.
I imagine that those who didn’t know Adam are probably skeptical of this claim. So allow me to try to prove my case.
Adam was a musician in bands playing from bluegrass to punk rock. But he could also saunter into a ballroom in his ski boots and play the piano at swanky après spots in town, drawing a crowd. His range and reach in the mountain music community was unique.
Generally, someone who is so skilled as a musician would not have the time or energy to put into any athletic pursuits. But for Adam, he had a freakishly limitless bank of energy.
He would draw upon this account to chase events like the Race Across America, 24 Hours of Moab and other biking endeavors that few on this planet ever dream of pulling off. Heck, just within our local biking community, Adam ranked among the top of the town’s mountain bikers on Strava, with top-five positions among both the climbers and descenders. (For those unfamiliar with Strava, it is very rare to see a single rider in both those categories on the tracker app. Adam’s friends never stopped marveling at that.)
In the Middle Ages, unicorns were described as extremely wild woodland creatures. That fits Adam as well.
Adam had a passion for skiing in the backcountry. He would spend more days exploring Eagle County’s loneliest, snowiest corners than he would skiing at the resorts. He loved the adventure of finding new stashes and exploring spots that often we were the only people to ski.
Adam’s strength was legendary. He would be front of the pack most of the day breaking trail while others struggled to keep up. Even though he was working harder than anybody else, he would still be able to weave humor into the day.
The standard joke as we skinned some of the remote areas was to complain about other tracks in the area. He’d holler, “This place is over!” when he saw tracks, when in fact those were just our tracks from the previous weekend.
Unicorns are known for purity and grace, and Adam was a community-first guy. He dedicated his spare hours to coaching the soccer teams his daughters — Montana and Savannah — played on, building singletrack bike trails and volunteering at town and river clean-ups.
Adam fought relentlessly to win voter approval for Eagle’s whitewater park. Once the riverpark was built, Adam was a regular. On summer weekends he would say “surf ’n turf” was on the menu. That meant we were riding singletrack in the cooler morning mountain air, and surfing the Eagle River wave during the warm afternoon.
He would show up to the wave with his block-rocker cabinet speaker in tow, a cooler of iced beverages and a quiver of boards. He’d even rig up lights for surfing past sunset.
Adam was the longtime president of Eagle County’s Hardscrabble Trails Coalition, laboring to expand his town’s network of bike trails. He served 12 years on the board of Holy Cross Energy, which last week said he “was instrumental in transforming our cooperative into a more community-centered organization, leading the responsible transition to a clean energy future.”
“We will miss his joy and enthusiasm and the positive spirit that he brought to every activity, no matter how great or small,” the statement from the co-op said.
In April, he won a seat on the Eagle Town Council, earning the most votes in the eight-candidate race for three seats. His campaign strategy unfolded in typical Adam fashion: He printed a bunch of “Vote For Palmer” shirts and signs in the same style as the “Vote For Pedro” campaign from the cult classic film “Napoleon Dynamite.”
Adam’s work was focused on sustainable communities and the environment. He wasn’t chasing money, but rather doing what was right for the place that he loved. That is about as pure as it gets.
When I think about Adam’s commitment to his friends, I come back to a race I ran a couple years ago, called Run Rabbit Run. I needed someone to help pace me for the final 30 miles or so. The shift started at midnight. Adam had only run on trails a bit, but I asked him anyway.
It was sunrise and we were just struggling to pass this guy who was in full zombie mode, just stumbling and falling. We thought it was the most hilarious thing that I couldn’t get past this guy. Adam joked about how quickly I would die in a zombie apocalypse and we almost keeled over in delirious laughter.
That pacing run revealed his willingness to commit. Who could I ask to run 30 miles up a mountain starting at midnight? There is nobody else I could ask to do that. But I knew Adam would step up without question. And he wasn’t even a runner.
Adam was selfless. He would do anything for his friends. His family. His community. He put so much before himself.
“It wasn’t his community Adam cared about so much as everyone,” wrote Aspen Skiing’s sustainability guru Auden Schendler this week in a beautiful tribute to our friend.
Schendler said he considered Adam a mentor. Adam would scoff at that. He would call himself a student. He never stopped pursuing something better, bigger and greater. He was ruthless in his quest for improvement.
“As we age, especially if we are involved in a difficult, maybe impossible battle greater than ourselves — which, well, we all are — it is hard to escape the creeping and desolate feeling that the world takes the best, and leaves the rest of us to muddle along, lonelier, slightly crippled,” Schendler wrote. “I have to remember Adam’s relentless faith in us, his urging and encouragement and certainty in our eventual success.”
Even if you knew nothing of Adam and were lucky enough to meet him at the local brewery, you would never learn of any of these attributes. His humility made him stand out in today’s world, where that characteristic alone is becoming rare.
What you would remember from your first encounter with Adam — and really, your 10,000th as well — would be his humor and his ability to bring everyone around him together. And maybe, after a few pints, you too would feel as though you had been graced by something magical.
Ben Zeeb is a dad of two, senior vice president at Inntopia and longtime Eagle local who has more than a few Strava records himself.