Craig Kelly, 36, who retired from one of the most successful competitive careers in snowboarding history to follow his heart into the backcountry, was killed in an avalanche Monday near Revelstoke in the Canadian Rockies.
Kelly was working as a guide for two groups of backcountry adventurers organized by Selkirk Mountain Experience Skiing. They were heli-skiing on the glacier when a major slide occurred, trapping 8 and killing 7, including Kelly. According to police, the wall of snow was about 30 yards wide by 100 yards long.
In the early 1980s, when snowboarding was just coming into its own, Kelly and a group of friends formed the seminal snowboarding posse, MBHC (Mount Baker Hard Core). He enjoyed a hugely successful 15-year professional riding career, amassing 4 world championships and 3 U.S. championships. He was renowned for his smooth riding style and ability to pick the perfect line. None other than the legendary Terje Haakonsen said Kelly was the best snowboarder of all time.
Over the past decade, however, Kelly devoted himself to backcountry riding and guiding, along with continuing his design and development work for Burton. For Kelly, the move to the backcountry came from deep inside himself.
"There's just a feeling you get from certain things you do in life that just kind of feel pure and independent of what's actually, physically, going on. All of a sudden you have this feeling of clarity. Backcountry snowboarding has really done a lot to boost that feeling in me," he told MountainZone in 2000.
Leaving the professional scene was not an issue for Craig, rather a progression.
"What I do, my experience and what I do in snowboarding, is really pretty independent of (professional) snowboarding and the more independent it is, the more pure and better I feel about snowboarding."
Craig Kelly is survived by his daughter, Olivia, and partner, Savina. Donations in memory of Kelly can be sent to the Canadian Avalanche Association.
» Interview with Craig Kelly (2000)
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» Chillin' with Craig Kelly (2000)