Friday, April 12, 2013

Ode to Craig Patterson

It is with a very heavy heart that I write this, for this morning we got the shocking news that our friend Craig Patterson was killed yesterday skiing Kessler Peak, which Ash calls The Best Ski Peak in the World. 

Craig was a very impressive guy, on many different levels.  I first met him as one of the guys in the Black Diamond warranty department, and was always impressed at how positive his vibe was (not unlike Elmo, who was there with Craig, left for a period of time, and is now back) despite being the recipient of everyone’s gear problems.  As I chatted with him while waiting for my various gear to be repaired,  he was always keen about backcountry skiing and avalanches, but I didn’t think much of it; aren’t we all?

But next thing I knew Craig had a letter that was reprinted in its entirety in the “Avalanche Review”, the trade magazine for avy professionals (yes, there is such a thing; there’s a magazine for everything).  The letter was an eloquent complaint/request regarding the lack of mentoring in the avalanche world, and the fact that he was willing to make the sacrifice necessary to become a career avalanche professional - but was not really a ski resort type - but there was no process for bringing young enthusiasts such as Craig up into a world that was starting to look a little grey around the fringes.  It was a clarion call for these guys that they needed to tap into the enthusiasm of the prospective avy professional youth to bring them up into the ranks, and happily, that letter was a strong contributor to Craig getting a job as one of the Utah DOT avalanche guys in Provo Canyon.    

For several years Craig worked hard in Provo canyon, often regaling me with tales of epic skiing in Happy Valley that I should join him for.  Ash went down one morning to ski a line on Timpanogos with Craig and his UDOT partner in crime Bill Nalli that is only accessible from Sundance’s lifts and still raves about the day.  While the schedule was challenging – especially for a new father – to get down to their office by 6am, and storms rarely worry about being convenient, Craig lapped it up and learned as much as he could, which – as a highway department guy – also added the concept of copious firearm training since circa-1950’s howitzers are used for control (Craig’s opportunity for a job came as the result of a misfire that went over Cascade Ridge and blew up a shed in a Provo backyard!).  Craig rose to the occasion to figure out a new way to calibrate the guns (or something like that) that raised the level on all the avy pros who fired them scary guns.  And every once in a while he’d post an observation on the Utah Avalanche Center’s site that was quite comprehensive, and sign it as “Patterson”, which then made people ask Ash if she had posted it, and she’d laugh because she would never have the experience that Craig had. 

Craig also supplemented his income by teaching avy classes to newby – and experienced – backcountry skiers, and I remember at least a few days when I’d come upon a group huddled around a figure holding a block of snow in his hands and I’d bellow “don’t listen to a word that gumby says!” which would elicit some good guffaws because we all knew that Craig would always know more about avalanches than all of us ever would combined.  I’ve called avy education classes “backcountry skier factories” because they create more people who would be competing for lines in the Wasatch backcountry, but of course Craig didn’t share my cynicism and was genuinely stoked to be sharing his knowledge with enthusiastic students. 

Ash got to know him better via his summertime gig, which was buying auctioned homes in the Salt Lake valley and refurbishing them, and he tried to utilize Ash’s Green Building Center as much as he could.  Like our mutual fast friend Geoff Lane, I admired Craig for his ability to build house stuff as well as he skied and knew avalanches.  And Ash and I both came to really like Craig for his all-too-unusual ability to be super interesting, smart, and thoughtful yet also ask a ton of questions and being truly interested in what you were up to. 

As a summer activity Craig started running a few years ago, and quickly gravitated towards ultra-running; not really racing, per se, just running.  He’d just head out from his house and run for 5 or 6 hours on Wasatch singletrack.  Last year he decided he might as well try the hardest race around for a lark, and entered the Speedgoat 50k at Snowbird, billed as one of the hardest ultras in the country with over 11,000’ of climbing in only 30 miles.   As Craig recounted a couple of weeks ago at a birthday for our friends the Bracklesbergs, early in the summer he was running on relatively-flat Mid-Mountain trail in Park City when he bumped into Ash, who was riding.  Ash asked him what his program was for the day, and he said he was training for the Speedgoat.  Ash hesitated for a long moment, and said “What are you doing on the Mid-Mountain trail?  You gotta be going UP and DOWN!”  As Craig related, the rest of his training was done on burly trails with a lot of vertical, with Ash’s words ringing in his ears, and it paid off by being about 30th of 350 and right in the thick of things against some of the fastest and toughest guys in the country.  

And even though he had not been doing much mountain biking in lieu of trail running, for Geoff’s 40th we had a big posse doing an all-day ride, and Craig – doing what I think was his first ride of the year that hot August day – did just fine with both the distance and the technical riding, without mising a beat. 

But more important than his impressive athletic achievments and career drive was Craig's famously-friendly demeanor.  He and Geoff climbed and skied Denali together a couple of years ago, and they both love to talk about how the other climbers would slog past them daily with their heads down in grimacing agony and then would later remark about how much fun the Lane/Patterson camp was having!  He had that unusual combination of quiet confidence yet endearing humility that are the earmarks of a great mountain partner.  Ash and I were both surprised to read in the paper today the account of the “34 year old man” because the wisdom he displayed seemed to be well beyond those years. 

Craig had just gotten the dream job this season:  avy professional in the Cottonwood canyons, which meant not only a shorter commute but a coveted spot on one of the most well-respected and active avalanche teams in the world.  I bumped into longtime UDOT Avy guy Chris Covington earlier this season and said “you must be psyched to have Craig on your team” and he nodded gravely:  “yep, he’s a great addition.”

Craig, you have been an inspiration to us all in so many ways.  It’s hard to believe your big smile will only continue to exist in our minds, but there it will stay.  Renae, Kaya, and Geoff – your hubby, dad, and friend will be sorely missed, but very fondly remembered. 

(photo Bruce Tremper)


  1. Any day touring with Craig was a great day, no matter what the snow or weather was like. His joy was unconditional, so was his friendship.

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