Mountain GOAT: Craig Kelly, A Legacy Like No Other

Craig Kelly. p: Jon Foster

Originally published in the 30th Anniversary Issue of SNOWBOARDER Magazine, Mountain GOATS celebrates the most influential snowboarders of the last thirty years (1987-2017), otherwise known as the Greatest Of All Time list. With over 70 men and women riding into the ranks of the Mountain GOATS, check back as we release their bios and celebrated accolades over the course of the next few weeks!

Mountain Goat: Craig Kelly

In the eighties, Craig Kelly didn't just help snowboarding grow, he helped it grow up. Before Craig, being a snowboard pro was a part-time job. Kelly took the initiative to train more than the competition and market himself in a manner that made him highly sought after for endorsements. With this newfound acclaim and fame came never-before-seen professional responsibilities. This, in turn, led to a "careful what you wish for" scenario, whereby Craig found himself in the middle of a highly-publicized legal battle between the Hatfields and McCoys of snowboarding, Sims and Burton. The dispute was over which brand Craig was legally bound to board for. A landmark decision forced Kelly to ride for one year sans logos. When Craig emerged from this court-imposed sponsorship exile, his compensation came in the form of the Burton Mystery Air, a giant leap forward in board design. Utilizing a specialized flex profile, quadratic sidecut, and more user-friendly stance options, the Mystery Air made every rider who rode one better for it. The added control accelerated resort acceptance and gave Craig another level of connection to his growing fan base.


On the Mystery Air, Craig took home countless World Cup, World Championship, Banked Slalom and US Open titles. Kelly also spearheaded snowboarding's biopic movement with Adventurescope's The Smooth Groove in 1989, a full seven years before Subjekt Haakonsen. Craig's cinematic catalog also includes Snow Shredders, This Is Snowboarding, Scream Of Consciousness, Chill, Fear Of A Flat Planet and numerous other high-profile projects. Despite his professional tenacity, engineering studies at the University Of Washington and relatively clean cut image, Craig was a notorious prankster and prone to precocious behavior when the opportunity presented itself. One such opportunity occured in 1991 at an OP Pro event at June Mountain, California, where Craig was arrested for riding off the roof of the base lodge. Another instance involving an SUV and an E-brake occurred in Japan resulting in a brand new Range Rover being flipped onto its roof and totaled.   

By the time snowboarding hit the mainstream Craig was hitting the backcountry full-time far from the media spotlight, opting to climb peaks instead of podiums, and founding British Columbia's Island Lake Lodge in the process. As the new millennium hit, Craig was actively seeking out another backcountry refuge with perfect terrain and an ideal snowpack—a place where he could share his ideals with a select clientele. He found this utopia in Nelson, BC's Baldface Lodge. It was while working towards guide certification that Craig was taken from snowboarding in an avalanche. To most of us who find harmony while descending a slope sideways, this was the day the music died. No other person in the history of snowboarding has meant as much to as many people as Craig Kelly. Released posthumously, Jacques Russo's Let It Ride is required viewing for anyone looking to further explore Craig's legacy.


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