Mitch Hungate, a Renton dentist who is presumed dead after a Saturday afternoon avalanche on the slopes of Granite Mountain near Snoqualmie Pass, left his mark on Yakima’s longest-running triathlon.

In fact, he may well have saved it — at least for a while. So says the former director of the Valley of the Sun Triathlon, which had its final running in 2007 after being an annual summer event in Yakima for a quarter of a century.

The Valley of the Sun had been a popular attraction for triathletes until the late 1990s, when officials of the popular, well-established Hagg Lake Triathlon near Portland moved their event date to the same weekend as the Yakima race. Give a choice of the two races, many triathletes along the I-5 corridor opted for Hagg Lake, and by 1999 and 2000, Valley of the Sun registration dwindled to below break-even numbers.

“We were down to about 65 entries. It was horrible,” says Candie Turner, the Valley of the Sun’s race director for many years. “I got up (at a pre-race meeting with race participants) and made a plea and said, ‘Please, if you love this race and want it to continue, tell your friends.’

“Mitch came up to me after the race and gave me a hug and said, ‘When you send out your entry forms, send me a whole bunch of them and I’ll get them to all my friends.’

“And he did. He brought all of his friends. That, in my opinion, saved the race.”

Hungate was also well-known to participants in the Yakima River Canyon Marathon, having done the canyon race each of the last three years, and was a veteran Ironman triathlete — a race in which participants run a marathon, but only after swimming 2.4 miles and riding a bicycle 112 miles.

Also an accomplished backcountry outdoorsman, Hungate was reportedly teaching two other climbers on Granite Mountain when an avalanche carried him down the slope. His body has not yet been recovered.

Turner, who said she was “broken-hearted” by Hungate’s apparent death, adding that he and his wife, Marilynn, “were the loveliest people in the world. I guess you can feel maybe halfway blessed to know he died doing something he loved. He didn’t die of a heart attack. He was out doing what he loved.”