Where are you from?
I am from Cleveland, Ohio.
What motivated you to move to Nelson, British Columbia, and start a cat operation?
I fell in love with a girl in college and she ended up moving to Nelson. I went on a heliboarding trip and didn’t have the greatest experience, so on my way back down I drove over to Nelson to check it out and say hello to her. The stars aligned and I fell in love with the girl again and had to figure out a way to get to Nelson to be with the love of my life.
Talk about your introduction to Craig Kelly.
Here is the Craig Kelly story in a nutshell: so, I’m in Nelson and I’m trying to think about what opportunities might exist, whether it be snowcats or helicopters or touring or who know what. I was 26 or 27. One day I was walking down Baker Street and the most insane van you have ever seen in your life—a four-wheel drive Ford, white, pop-up top, big tires on it, jacked up—pulls up with Washington plates on it and I am checking out this van like, “Man that’s a nice van.” The door opens up and Craig Kelly walks out and I couldn’t believe it. And he comes right up to me on the sidewalk and says, “Hey, is there a music store in this town?” I just so happen to be standing right in front of the music store that was on Baker Street and I pointed over my shoulder and I was just like, “You just parked right in front of the music store in Nelson.” And into the music store he goes. The next time I met him was probably a year or so later and I had been kind of working on a backcountry snowboarding adventure. I befriended John Buffery, who is a great guy and a great guide. He had worked at CMH Canadian Mountain Heli and taught a lot of avalanche courses. He was a snowboarder and we had become friends and done some exploratory missions in some places. He had taken on a bit of a role as a mentor in my process and one day he invited me over for tea at his house to look at some maps and we would usually play chess and talk and whatever. I walked into his house and as I came around the corner to see his whole kitchen table, Craig was sitting on the other side of the chessboard in Buff’s kitchen. I remember backing up out of the kitchen and I look at Buff with I’m sure a look of disbelief on my face, and Buff is like, “Come on in. I want you to meet Craig. We’re good friends. He and I have run all over the mountains up here and I thought he would be a good guy for us to sit with and talk about what you have been working on.” I had a great two-hour conversation with the two of them that validated what I was thinking and it culminated in a relationship starting up.
Craig was a really introspective and intelligent human and he had a really good understanding of how the world worked.”
For those of us, like myself, that never had the pleasure of meeting Craig, what was he like? How would you encompass Craig as a person, as a snowboarder?
I knew him much later in his life, at the very last bit, and he was really contemplative. He thought before he talked. If you asked him a question, at first there was almost this awkward pause, and he took the time to think about what you asked him before he just answered the question. He was an introspective and intelligent human and he had a really good understanding of how the world worked, but at the same time, he was a good buddy, really fun to hang out with, really encouraging. The guy that’s really good at golf when you suck at golf, but he doesn’t make fun of you for sucking.
What was it like watching him ride?
To me, I think his hands tell the story of how he snowboarded, because he never lost control of his scene. You know when you overturn a heel turn and the snow is a little deeper and you might put the brakes on too much and wave your hands around trying to stay on your feet? I never saw him do that. Through the tightest trees, deepest terrain, whatever. And if you watch film of him he is almost snowboarding with his hands and his hips and his body kind of follows, you know?
Just beautiful. And watching him work with photographers, too, Craig would throw a snowball in the exact spot he was going to land and tell the photographer that was the spot and sure enough, Craig would just hit it perfectly so the snow was spraying in the right spot and the photographer was in the right spot. You would see the photos afterwards and realize that he really understood that part of snowboarding, the business side. And to his credit, we would be out for a whole day and he and Jeff Curtes would bang out all the shots they needed in the first hour and then we got to have fun riding for the rest of the day.
Describe the day Craig passed. Where were you?
I was in town, we had a crew up here at the lodge. Buff was up here, and at that point, our office was in our house and Paula was pregnant with our first kid, so Craig had just been up here for a trip and then he was headed to Revelstoke. He was going to finish training and apprenticing under one of the master guides in our world, Rudy Bedlinger. He’s been doing it a really long time so Craig was going up to train with him before he took one of his advanced avalanche classes, and I was at the office. You know, a lot of the details of the day are just gone but I think it was a phone call that came in. I can’t remember who it was, but they were like, “Did you hear the big news? There’s been an avalanche in Revelstoke—a big one, a bad one.” I hadn’t heard anything. That was maybe at noon or something. Then by like two in the afternoon, I remember I got a call from Savina. She was like, “Do you know anything?” And I was like, “No I don’t really know anything.” And she goes, “I’m pretty sure it was an area north of Revelstoke.” She was listening to news reports and there was a moment where I was like, “Don’t worry about it. If it was there, I guarantee you are not going to hear from him, because he’s working, he’s been training for this, there’s first aid, they’re landing helicopters and it could go on till midnight, so if Craig is there, it’s a really good thing that he’s there because he’s doing what he’s been training to do.”
So that went on for a while and then the phone started ringing more and more and there was kind of a buzz and this is where I don’t really remember all that well. I think an RCMP Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer came by my house and they were like, “Okay, we understand that you worked with Craig Kelly and his wife lives right up the street. There have been multiple fatalities up in that area and we have to talk to Savina about it, and since you are close and you know her really well, do you want to come along?” So Paula and I went with them and as we were walking into Craig and Savina’s house the RCMP were walking out and I don’t really remember anything after that. I probably held it together all right, but then I was on the sidewalk with Paula and I remember falling down. My legs just fell out from underneath me and it just hit me super hard.