CRAIG KELLY | 20 YEARS LATER


Who is Craig Kelly? Well, in the simplest of terms, he was and will always be one of the most iconic names in snowboarding. But Craig was also a father, a son, a friend, a best friend, a chemical engineer, a designer and someone who passed too soon. He died tragically in an avalanche on January 20, 2003, along with six others outside of Revelstoke at the age of 36. What Craig did for snowboarding is almost impossible to put into words, but in short, he shared his passion with the world and helped shape snowboarding into what it is today. Twenty years later we’re still talking about Craig’s legacy, his approach to snowboarding, and, more importantly, his inspiring life. 

by Jody Wachniak


Now obviously, Craig loved to snowboard, but don’t we all? So where’s your shrine of first-place trophies and pro-model Mystery Air boards? I’m gonna go ahead and say that the main difference between you and Craig was his intense discipline and focus from a very young age. This perseverance allowed him to excel and overcome the physical, mental and emotional rollercoaster that comes with trying to reach your goals. Keep in mind, Craig started snowboarding in the late ’70s long before Robot Food, sidewalls or the internet, so of course, there was no white paper recipe for Craig or any other snowboarders to follow. Hell, there weren’t even really tricks at this point. People were just praying to make it down the slope and not break their ankles. I mean, the Handplant was basically a cartwheel, and the style of a Method at the time looked as if you typed M-E-T-H-O-D into the Google image search bar.


1991, Stratton, Vermont. [o] Trevor Graves

For Craig, snowboarding was being invented in real-time, and the boom of races and hand-dug halfpipes were here for him in the mid-’80s. Craig’s passion for snowboarding, along with his fresh approach, signature style and consistency, would soon have him chilling on top of podiums for all snowboarding disciplines. He was a four-time World Champion and three-time US Champion from 1987 to 1991. He completely dominated the contest world from the late ’80s into the mid-’90s. Without knowing, he was transitioning snowboarding from a small grassroots sport into a globally recognized and respected “sport.” From 1983-1995, alongside Jake Burton Carpenter, they helped open nearly every North American resort to snowboarding. And, in 1993, Craig founded Craig Kelly World Snowboard Camp in Whistler—it was the first of its kind. Snowboarding became the coolest new sport of the century and the money started to pour in. Craig, being the poster boy, got to capitalize, he became a millionaire at the age of 23. 

Soon, Corporate America came a-knockin’, they wanted their slice of the pie. But as we’ve seen, again and again, more money and more stuff is never the answer, especially when that means selling a piece of your soul to some lame-ass company with no genuine interest in you or what you do. The kooks come for the money and walk once they aren’t happy with the ROI. A classic cycle that still exists today. But shit, when you’re young and getting paid to snowboard, traveling the world with little-to-no rules, it would be almost impossible to pass up the opportunity. As the story goes, the life of glamour and glitz doesn’t always fulfill the soul. Craig may have started pondering the ancient questions: “Who am I?” “Why am I here?” “What does this all mean?” My guess is our trusty old friend Mother Nature and her deliverance of powder might be the culprit for these asking. 


“I would like my life to be a little bit simpler as opposed to wanting more.” —Craig Kelly


Being true to who he was, Craig started spending more time in the mountains and, as a result, began to discover another world of snowboarding; freeriding. By the mid-’90s this new experience opened a new chapter in his life and career. He picked up on the bullshit associated with the corporate world and wanted to connect with the simple beauty of snowboarding. He turned down massive contracts and would quit the contest world entirely—diving head-first into the unexplored world of freeriding. 


“I think we are nature. I think we naturally fit into the scheme of nature, but we create our lives in such a way that we start fighting nature, and we start fighting the way of the universe. Sometimes, when I’m out there snowboarding, I feel like I line myself back up.”—Craig Kelly


Craig basically walked. Many others in his shoes would have stayed, and, I mean, why not? You’re at the top. Money, fame, ego, babes, nice food, and shiny things. But Craig hit us with the ol’ 180 and followed his heart.


1997. Fernie, BC. [o] Mark Gallup

If you were ever fortunate to have watched Craig’s freeriding live you would have witnessed the most gifted snowboarder opening a new dimension. At this point, I feel Craig wasn’t just snowboarding anymore. It was something much deeper. That shit had meaning and purpose. It was no longer about winning awards, getting new sponsors or building an ego. He was just out there boarding in the mountains. Soul boarding for himself and no one else. It was pure, it was magic, and it would change the course of snowboarding forever. 


“Freeriding. Getting out there and riding a big slope, it’s your chance to be free of all society’s little rules, free of expectations that others have of you. You just look at the mountain and interpret it however you want it and just snowboard down it. And hopefully, you’re not even worried about what other people see or think or what their expectations might be of you.”—Craig Kelly 


Craig’s love and dedication to snowboarding have shaped the lives of millions, giving them a sense of connection and purpose that, for many, including myself, would transition into a way of life. I think we should all remember to live a little more like Craig and embrace our truest selves. Everyone else is taken, don’t be another copy, be like Craig, be original, be you. And one last word from the GOAT himself….


“As a general rule, it’s better to just be living for the moment because if you plan ahead, you might just not make it that far.” —Craig Kelly


1994, Island Lake Lodge. [o] Mark Gallup

“Craig was the first to adventure into big international remote mountains. He was the first pro snowboarder to adopt split boarding and the first to be accepted into the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides assessment process. His clear drive for riding new mountains was unattainable by most. I often wonder where split boarding would be today had Craig’s influence on research and design had driven that industry from 20 years ago. Craig’s focus, tenacity, strength, and dedication to snowboarding enabled him to master riding where the nuance of his personality glistened in his smooth technique riding through intricate terrain. He created legitimacy to being a professional big mountain snowboarder and created a tone for riding in the mountains where we can all experience the balance of deep grounded peace and exhilarating curious opportunity.” —John Buffery


Craig shifted the focus from competition to freeriding and made it possible for pro snowboarders to make a living without having to do contests.” —Mikey Rencz


“He had such a powerful aura, a natural connection with the mountains at a deeper level that brought much more style and flow. It’s hard to describe in words, but you can’t unsee it. He directed the culture in the best way by following his heart instead of going after what people may have expected of him. His contribution to snowboarding is still felt today. Whether we need inspiration for what a true good turn is or for the style and values he brought to snowboarding over the years.” —Marie-France Roy


1994, Island Lake Lodge. [o] Mark Gallup

“What Craig did for snowboarding and how he rode his snowboard is truly timeless. He embodied the beauty of snowboarding by breaking down the barriers of competitive snowboarding and following a path into the mountains. He birthed style and flow into riding the mountains leaving lines that would inspire generations to come.” —Austen Sweetin 


“He had a style that is unmatched. He rode lines that would hold in videos today with such grace and fluidity. Seemingly humble and talented, he pushed his limits bringing the sport to whole new levels. I honestly think snowboarding would look a lot less rad without his presence. I don’t think he will ever be forgotten as long as snowboarding is still relevant. I hope he’s shredding above us all, getting stoked on seeing what he loved to do grow so much.” —Brin Alexander


Craig lead by example and transcends a professional snowboarder’s career from competition to filming. In a time when competition was the main metric for a snowboarder’s worth, it was cool to see him leave that world as the top dog (and arguably the most influential person in snowboarding) to pursue world travels, filming videos and freeriding.

Craig’s style was and still is like no one else. It was made up of precision and fluidity and seemed to resemble some sort of martial art. If you listen to interviews about Craig from other pros at the time, they all say they were trying to emulate him and his style. I feel like his halfpipe background shaped his backcountry approach and how he read terrain, in turn, he inspired generations to come. Terje, Nico, and Blauvelt all have hints of Craig in their riding style and approach to terrain.” —Gabe Langlois


“Craig’s legacy shines bright! He was the one people looked to and still look to for style, technique, and finesse. He put the sport on the map, won everything, gave his life to snowboarding, and enjoyed nothing more than being in the mountains. He still has a huge impact to this day. That’s why Craig is undoubtedly the GOAT.” —Mark McMorris 


“Craig Kelly is the most prolific, respected, and legendary figure in snowboard history. He was the first snowboarder to step away from contests and fully dedicate himself to riding powder in the mountains. He progressed tricks, backcountry safety, riding for yourself, and style—even if it was just turning down the hill. He is that pure-soul snowboarder that did it for the right reasons. 

Beyond inventing tricks and winning, Craig seemed to follow his heart and do whatever he wanted. That’s what stuck out to me. Almost a ‘fuck you’ attitude in a quiet, respectful manner. He used snowboarding as a tool to make his dreams come true and positively impact others. He’s someone that will continue to be a staple in guiding our culture in the right way for decades to come.” —Blake Paul


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