There are only a few times in one’s life where you can remember exactly where you were and what you were doing when you heard certain news. For a lot of people, hearing of Craig Kelly’s passing on January 20th of 2003 brings back those feelings. Known by many as the “Godfather of Freeriding,” and noted by Terje Haakonsen as the “best snowboarder of all time,” Craig has left a longstanding legacy on our sport. It’s been 10 years now since that fateful avalanche took the lives of Craig and six others in the backcountry of Revelstoke, BC, but the impact and attitude Craig left on snowboarding is still strong.
(Photo: Rob Mathis)
Starting out in the race and contest world and holding several US Open and world champion halfpipe and downhill titles, Craig was one of the first pro riders to leave the contest scene for bigger mountains and deeper snow. He showed that a pro snowboarder could walk away from the lucrative world of contests and make a living off photos and video parts, a career path that remains in place to this day. A style master, Craig is known for having one of the best-looking methods of all time and for somehow making every grab, carve, and slash look good.
(Photo: Bud Fawcett)
Growing up in the small Washington town of Mt. Vernon, Craig was a Mt. Baker local from the get-go and was one of the main forces behind Mt. Baker being one of the first resorts to allow snowboarding. Holding titles in the Mt. Baker Legendary Banked Slalom from 1988, 1991, and 1993, Craig’s roots run deep at Baker and can still be felt during the Banked Slalom today.
(Photo: Chris Brunkhart)
A snowboarder with an engineering background, Craig was all about the R&D aspect of snowboarding and always had his hands in product development. Even Jake Burton is quoted as saying, “when I started listening to Craig that was when my company became successful and really took off.” It was because of Craig’s contribution to product development and snowboarding that Burton named the Burlington prototype facility in honor of him.
(Photo and Featured Image: Vianney Tisseau)
After falling in love with the powder-covered mountains of interior BC, Craig spent much of his time exploring and riding lines no one else had. After years of dedication to snowboarding and to backcountry knowledge, Craig was the first snowboarder to pass the Canadian Avalanche Safety Guiding Program, on a splitboard. He was training to become the first snowboarder to be fully certified as a Canadian Mountain Guide when he was caught in an avalanche . After Craig’s passing, a cross was erected at Baldface to forever commemorate a man whose love for the mountains was unrivaled. Recently, Burton helped to commission a more permanent cross on top of the ridge at Baldface to pay tribute to someone who left a longstanding impression not only on snowboarding as a sport, but to snowboarding as a way of life.