Remembering Louis Holian: “This is Ashley”

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On February 6, 2021, a horrible avalanche in Millcreek Canyon in Salt Lake City, Utah took four amazingly beautiful lives from the world: Stephanie Hopkins, 26, of Salt Lake City, Utah; Sarah Moughamian, 29, of Sandy, Utah; Thomas Louis Steinbrecher, 23, of Salt Lake City; and Louis Holian, 26, also of Salt Lake City.

Louis Holian. Photo courtesy Ally Marringa
Louis Holian. Photo courtesy Ally Marringa

I saw my friend Louis for the last time the previous Wednesday night, February 3, at Hangar 15 Bicycles in Millcreek, where we both worked. Our mutual colleague, Chuck, went skiing with him on that Thursday. I had planned to go with them, but stayed home to work on grading papers for the courses I teach at Salt Lake Community College. I wish I could have gone with them both that Thursday to play in the snow.

I had a lot of fun times riding bikes and trail running with Louis on the Parley’s Trail, Emigration Canyon, Millcreek Canyon, Z Trail, and Bonneville Shoreline Trail over the three years we knew each other. He was one of the first people I rode bikes with when I moved to Salt Lake City. He was humble, fun, kind, hilarious, and honest.

Louis Holian working at Hangar 15. Photo by Anthony Nocella
Louis Holian working at Hangar 15. Photo by Anthony Nocella

We agreed the sports we love are dangerous. On July 30, 2019, he picked me up, covered in blood and with a broken helmet, at the hospital after I was involved in a hit-and-run with a car while riding my bike up 4500 South to Millcreek Canyon. After asking if I was okay, he took my hospital paperwork as we walked to his white van with my bike in his arms, and the only thing he said was “Damn, you’ve got a good heart rate” and compared it to his. Classic Louis. If Strava had heart rate competitions, he would have taken part. He loved beating everyone because he could.

I first heard about the avalanche the morning it happened, and later that afternoon I learned four people had died. I called Hangar 15 and asked if anyone knew if Louis was one of the victims. No one knew, but we felt in our guts that something was wrong.

Louis Holian skiing. Photo courtesy Ally Marringa.
Louis Holian skiing. Photo courtesy Ally Marringa.

I called The Gear Room and could not get through. Many of Louis’s friends were calling his phone, but the calls went to voicemail all day. I finally got through to The Gear Room about 5:30 pm while in my car leaving Millcreek Canyon, shortly after I left Hangar 15. I asked, and they confirmed the horrible news. Everyone was crying, and there were voices of pain in the background.

One of the last serious conversations Louis and I had was how he really loved Hangar 15, especially working with Ryan Hanseen whom Louis believed to be one of the best mechanics in this region.

Ryan Hanseen: Louis and I both started working for Hangar 15 around the same time. I trained him and he was my right-hand man from day one. He had an amazing way to lighten up the room with his goofiness and unique sense of humor. Louis and I would occasionally disagree and argue at work but at the end of the day, we always left as friends. Outside of work, we would occasionally go bar hopping or hang out and drink a beer together and just talk about life. We always had a mental connection and shared many of the same viewpoints on life. There was never a dull moment or a frown when we hung out. He had a wonderful ability to turn something as simple as walking around downtown into an adventure.

Mike Hanseen, manager of the Millcreek location of Hangar 15 had this to say about Louis:

Mike Hanseen: I first met Louis via a hilarious circumstance at the shop. I was working the floor Burke Swindlehusrt (a very taleneted former pro cyclist) came into the shop to pick up some random supplies. Most local riders know of Burke and if they don't know him, they have seen his KOM's on Strava throwing down some amazing hill climb times up all the local canyons.

We started talking the small talk then Burke, maybe looking puzzled or curious, proceeded to tell me how this kid in cut-off jeans and Vans riding a fixie passed him going up Emigration Canyon. Burke isn't one to let someone drop him, especially when it gets steep. Burke told me that once he hit the switchbacks towards the top he had to put some serious hurt in to drop this kid, which he did but not by much.

Wouldn't you know it, but a few hours later this kid comes in on a fixie, wearing cut-off jeans and Vans. I had to know. I mean what are the odds? I approached “this kid” asking if there is anything I could help him with. He said he was looking for a road bike. I interrupted and asked him if he had been riding Emi a few hours previously. He replied “yes” with that big, goofy curious smile of his. I told him that he impressed one of our fastest climbers in the states when he passed him going up Emi. If I remember correctly he humbly smiled again. A few days later he bought his first road bike from me.

See, Louis was humble and competitive. He didn't mind losing, but he really enjoyed the win, hence why he bought the road bike. After several months of helping Louis as a customer, I offered him a job, which he accepted. Louis was one of the funniest employees I have had to work with. He took his work seriously, but made it fun. There are times in the summer when everyone is with a customer and all phone lines are ringing, and it can be very stressful. Louis would answer the phone “Hangar 15 Bicycles, this is Ashley”. The first time he did this in front of me, he looked at me, I looked at him and we both laughed internally keeping our composure. Well, a month goes by and now we have customers asking for Ashley. This antic paid comedic dividends all season and for seasons to come.

Another fun one is when he would take the label-maker that we use to mark our parts drawers and he would mark random objects. There was a label on the door that was labeled “door”, another label marked “microwave” and another “refrigerator” and of course the repair shop work station was labeled “Louis' computer”. You know, so we could find our way around the shop. Well, our GM didn't like this, but everyone else thought it was hilarious. Louis could argue with you about whatever it may be and strongly disagree with you. And a few hours later you're at the local watering hole having a great time. I won't forget Louis, ever.

Mike Thomas, co-owner of Big Rack Shuttle, also used to work with Louis at Hangar 15.

Mike Thomas: I met Louis at Hangar 15 when he was hired, and I had been working there for about 2 or 3 years. His name on Strava was “My Dad is stronger than your Dad”, and it cracked me up. I can’t remember if we started riding together or running together first, but we ended up doing both. I know our friendship really started by listening to each other’s suffer-fest endeavors, hearing about our hard runs and rides that we had done or were dreaming about doing. It is difficult to find someone at your level that loves big and intense adventures, while wearing Lycra. Louis turned out to be a great partner.

One of our most memorable rides was when we rode up Little Cottonwood Canyon on our bikes, ditched them close to the top, and ran up the ridge of Superior and back, and then rode home. It was one of those ideas I randomly threw out there and Louis jumped on it. He always made for good company; and those big days on the bike or running, he always had a smile on his face, even when it turned out to be extremely rough.

I really loved that he always kept smiling when things were rough and kept it upbeat. I had so many other awful days planned for us. He was someone I could count on wanting to do pretty much anything I could think up. I have had some cycling bibs made with his image on them with the idea that I’ll wear them on those hard days in the mountains. That way he’ll still be with me. The image of Louis that I have on my bibs captures that memorable smile that always helps keep the happy thoughts going when you’re really suffering.

Will Marringa is Louis’s brother-in-law, who also bonded with him through cycling.

Will Marringa: Louis was the one who really got me into cycling five years ago when I moved to Utah and we started living together. It started with short rides around the city or to Ruth's Diner since that's all I could muster. All the while, Louis encouraged me to keep going.

Louis Holian (right) and Will Marringa. Photo by Ally Marringa
Louis Holian (right) and Will Marringa. Photo by Ally Marringa

Over the years I developed into a competent cyclist thanks to the imparted knowledge from him, and the pressure to keep up with him on all of those steep climbs. Living with somebody as deep into the sport as Louis can lead to a lot of spontaneous rides planned the night before or early on a summer morning. I'm thankful for all of the memories I have of us suffering on canyon roads chatting about life, aspirations and trivial stuff like the recovery benefits of $1.50 cinnamon roll trays. It's hard for me to put to words how special our bond was. We were each other's biggest fan, competitor and advocate. He was my brother.

Louis liked the challenge of pushing himself to get better along with the fun and freedom that bikes bring. He talked about how rides offer some peace for reflection after a long day, a time for you to blow off some steam.

Louis used to be a delivery cyclist for Jimmy Johns at the Cottonwood Heights location back in the day, which meant biking up lots of hills on his fixie and developing a taste for the pain that comes with climbing the steep streets in the city. His passion really kicked off when he began working at Hangar 15 as a mechanic. His knowledge of bikes really began to grow as he learned more about how to build and fix them. The employee-discount pricing may have also played a small part in the slow accumulation of different bikes at our house. We spent lots of summer nights planning rides for the morning or discussing the new buzz-words being dropped by big bike manufacturers. Without Louis' passion for cycling, I don't think mine would have developed at all, or in the same way it did.

Back in 2018, Louis and I had decided we were going to do the Porcupine Hill Climb, but Louis had a different plan for his equipment than I did. He got in contact with the race organizer (Jared Eborn, I think) to clear him doing the hill climb on his fixie. After some liability discussions, he got the green light as long as he got a ride back down the canyon. So, the day of the race comes and Lou's parents fly in for the race and we all load up in his Sprinter van and head to the base of Big Cottonwood.

As the Cat-5 field started out, Lou was at the front, mostly because he needed to maintain his speed on his fixie which isn't exactly suited to coasting in packs. As was usual, anytime we started a race together, he and I were joking around and psyching each other out before the course started getting steeper. Once we hit the base of the Storm Mountain climb, Louis broke away, primarily due to the fact that he had to push hard to keep his legs moving going up such a steep grade. I followed the break, and the chase only made it past him because we had actual gearing.

As the race went on, Louis would smash the climbs, then spin out a bit on the flats because of his gearing and get caught by part of the pack, still slowly dwindling their numbers. I finished the race 3rd, and headed back over to the finish line for Louis, not knowing he was only 3 minutes behind me. Louis finished in 4th with a finishing time of 1:11:39, a great time for most people on road bikes but absolutely insane to have been done so fast on a fixie. It makes me happy to know the whole family got to see him perform at his best and have fun doing that day. It will always be one of my fondest memories.

Kevin Gmitro was one of Louis’s colleagues at The Gear Room. Here’s what he had to say:

Kevin Gmitro: Louis was a rare breed. He was the kind of guy who loved to suffer. Many in the outdoor community love Type-2 fun, which is the kind of fun that is only fun in retrospect. Louis truly thrived on Type-3 fun; the kind of fun that might never be considered fun, or sufferfests, as we affectionately call them. He could ride dozens of miles in wind on the most heinous gravel, on a road bike, and ski thousands of vertical feet in a morning before work. He would still be early to work and work harder than anyone else in our shop and with a smile on his face. All he needed was a cold beer at the end of the day. He enthusiastically would remind anyone who would listen that beer had the perfect carb to protein ratio. His spry humor kept everyone on their toes. And his jovial, shit-eating grin kept him out of trouble on many occasions. His candor and childlike enthusiasm were his most endearing qualities.

A favorite Louis story of mine was when I got tipped a beer for some work I did in one morning and Louis saw it in the fridge at closing. We always shared beer. When he saw this particular beer, he gasped and begged my brother if he could drink it. Chris replied that no one cared, but Louis went on a rant about how this austere beer was his favorite beer of all times. It was from his hometown, nostalgic, delicious, hoppy, flavorful and the perfect carb to protein ratio. Chris asked if he could try a sip. Louis coyly declined. “I’m taking it home,” he said, “to savor and fully enjoy it.”

In a whirlwind of glee and emotion, he dropped the beer, juggled it 2-3-4 times before letting it drop to the ground and explode! He panicked. Picked it up and looked at Chris. “Shotgun it!” Chris shouted. Louis obliged and spilled most of the remaining beer in the process. He looked at Chris and defeatedly said “that was the worst thing that ever happened to me. I didn’t even enjoy it.” I opened the store the next morning to find sticky & smelly beer all over our desk.

Louis’s friend Trista spoke about him at the Celebration of Life Memorial Ride for Tom and Louis.

Trista Sanderson Winder: From the first time I met Louis, him out on some road run for miles, me out on the bike, I felt at ease and comfortable. I knew my boyfriend Michael had talked all about the crazy adventures he liked to do with Louis, and I was skeptical he'd be the type who would have time for a smile when suffering seemed to be his joy. I really got to know Louis, out on the White Rim Trail, blazing hot and dehydrated. Michael and Louis were both severely dehydrated and going slower than my easy pace: they were hurting.

Louis still greeted me with excitement, gratitude for the water, and no complaints. I was touched by how fun and easy he was to be around, and an hour later I saw him eagerly riding up behind after I'd left to go get water and the truck to drive back and get the boys. He finished the White Rim, gave me water from his car, and chatted happily with us despite the rough situation only 2 hours earlier.

Louis was not only eager to suffer, but I realized he was just as eager and seemingly happier to connect and live life to the fullest. It seemed to ooze out of him, and it still brings a smile to my face. I was touched by how playful, genuine, and authentic his desire was to help. Louis made me feel comfortable to be myself even after meeting him twice, and reminded me to not come at life from fear, but from joy and wonder for adventure. He was full of life, vibrant, and genuinely kind and thoughtful. I move forward with more courage and am touched by his memory to live life more from a place of passion, courage, and a smile on your face, whenever you can muster.

And finally, from Louis’s friend Chuck:

Chuck: Louis's antics always had me laughing. His flowing mullet, handlebar mustache and a big smile. Declaring himself to be a “level 40” mechanic. Answering the phone at work as “Ashley'” and asking what your favorite color is. I'm so sad that he is gone and so happy to have known him.

For more photos of Louis, see his instagram page: @altalpine

Louis on the trainer in his van. Photo courtesy Ally Marringa
Louis Holian and Tom skiing. Photo courtesy Ally Marringa
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