R yan Bartt Chute was born on Sept. 13, 1980, in Moose Jaw, Sask., the second of four children to Bartt and Marla Chute. His parents were grain farmers whose sprawling fields, located about 25 km north of town, had been in the family since the 1920s. A “fun-loving” child, Ryan “loved to tuck his head in the crook of your neck and cuddle,” says Marla. He was drawn to the outdoors—particularly whatever his dad was doing. As a toddler, he had his own corner in the tractor cab, complete with a pillow and blanket. “When he got tired, he’d lay down and have a sleep,” says Bartt. The harvest was an early source of fascination. In late August, he would spend hours in the fields with his dad, watching him combine the lentils, peas and wheat.
A curious boy, Ryan trailed Bartt in the workshop, tinkering with the machinery. Like his father, he was eager to try new things, and fuelled his bent for adventure with dirt bikes, jet skis and snowmobiles, later learning to drive a motorcycle and a big rig. In school, Ryan’s ability to elicit laughter made him a favourite among his classmates, if not always his teachers. “He spent a fair bit of time in the hallway,” says friend Jason Doney. He extended his good-natured teasing to sisters Andrea and Alana, but was also protective—his brother Reid, born in 1985, died in infancy, and Ryan kept a close eye on them.
For Ryan, “there was no snowbank too deep or mountain too high,” says Jason. He was mindful of avalanche warnings, but his fearlessness led to a few close calls. While snowmobiling in Golden, B.C., he and friend Scott Durrant were “high-marking”—trying to out-climb each other on the face of the mountain—when a three-metre overhang of snow broke free. “We went straight down as fast as we could,” narrowly escaping the falling snow, says Scott. Ryan’s enthusiasm was infectious. After honing his snowboarding skills during his family’s annual trips to the Rockies, he taught his father and Alana to ride, an exercise that largely involved “leaving me at the top of the hill to figure it out on my own,” Alana says. His example, however, instilled confidence. “I thought, ‘If Ryan could do it, why couldn’t I?’ ” she says. No matter the sport, says friend Ryan Hennenfent, “if he was involved in it and you weren’t, you were soon to be.”
When he was little, Ryan’s parents worried that the long stretches he spent in the tractor with Bartt might turn him off farming. In fact, as he later revealed, his decision to follow in his father’s footsteps had been cemented at age four. In high school, he chose to help with the harvest instead of joining the football team, and became integral to the operation, mastering everything from spraying to hauling. After graduation, Ryan, who was raised in the Alliance Church, spent a year at Bible college before completing an agriculture course at the University of Saskatchewan. More than business partners, he and his dad were true friends.
Ryan was barely 20 when he started dating Marcie Andrie. But Marcie, two years his junior, had first set her sights on him as a young girl in Sunday school, and it became clear that “they were made for each other,” says Jason. In 2001, Ryan took her to the legislature in Regina to see the Christmas lights. He got down on one knee and produced a ring, which he had hidden in his sock. She said “yes,” and they were married the next summer. Regulars at Moose Jaw Warriors hockey games, they took up golfing and spent summer days at nearby Buffalo Pound Lake. Ryan had never been one to hold babies, but when son Rhett was born in 2004, “you couldn’t pry him out of his hands,” says Alana. (Son Rogan Reid followed in 2009.) As his dad had done with him, Ryan encouraged Rhett’s interest in farming,
Ryan had his own farm, but continued working with Bartt, who had begun to hand over the reins. They remained just as close off the fields. In the spring, Bartt started taking flying lessons in an ultralight aircraft at an airstrip southwest of Saskatoon, and Ryan was eager to experience the freedom of flight. Bartt reasoned that it was less risky than snowmobiling in the mountains; both his instructor and the plane had flawless safety records.
On Aug. 13, Ryan went for an introductory flight, which he said “felt so different from anything else,” says Bartt. With the harvest just days away, it would soon become difficult to indulge such whims; they booked his first formal lesson for Aug. 17. Bartt waited below as Ryan and the instructor took off into the clear evening sky. The plane never returned. Investigators don’t yet know what caused the crash that killed both men, but the wreckage was discovered the next morning in a wheat field, five kilometres southeast of the airstrip. Ryan Chute was 28.