January 20, 2023 marks the 20th anniversary since the snowboarding world lost Craig Kelly, the sport’s first true ambassador and pro rider, to an avalanche in British Columbia.
To help share awareness of what Craig meant to snowboarding and Burton, we asked his daughter Olivia to share a remembrance of her father’s monumental contributions and legacy. Read on after Oliva’s letter to hear about Craig’s foundational influence on shaping Burton’s rider-driven product ethos and creating the pathway to modern-day professional snowboarding. From freestyle to freeride to guiding, Craig brought the spirit of snowboarding with him wherever he went.
The last 20 years have been a continuous process of grieving, but with that has come numerous incredible stories and experiences shared by people both close to my dad and perfect strangers, all of us impacted by how he lived his life and his contribution to snowboarding itself. The support of the snowboarding community has been the greatest blessing, filling in for what was lost. I am grateful to all of you for being a source of strength and resilience.
The pursuit of knowledge in general is part of what makes life so meaningful and interesting and gaining new skills and expertise in the backcountry is no different. My dad understood this intuitively and over the course of his short lifetime, he was able to apply a beginners mindset, staying curious, asking lots of questions, all in the pursuit of knowledge.
To become an expert in any field requires dedication and a willingness to learn from industry leaders, those who hold the knowledge. Organizations like Avalanche Canada help make that happen through professional level training and research, and by matching individuals wishing to pursue a career in the mountains with funding opportunities. The Craig Kelly Scholarship Fund was established in memory of my dad, his love for learning and for being in the mountains, and has supported many riders in their pursuit towards a professional career in avalanche risk management. Donations to his scholarship fund can help others like him gain the training they need to become experts in their fields. - Olivia Kelly
Craig Kelly was a competitive force, a true soul-driven freerider, and a passionate and highly intelligent mind behind Burton product development. The four-time World Champion was literally the best of the best, and brought serious freestyle credibility to Burton. When he pivoted away from the contest spotlight and cash prizes, it was a shock at the time. You simply didn’t walk away from competing and expect to continue being paid to snowboard back then.
Kelly made it clear that the backcountry was where he was heading. He also made it clear he was bringing Burton along, and the brand backed him. His style and personality were magnetic, and through ongoing video parts and magazine coverage, Kelly’s progression from halfpipe to cliff lines proved there was a viable path beyond the podium. His professionalism extended past judged runs, and in this early era, his pioneering approach to exploring everything that snowboarding offered defined being an “ATV” rider. It’s hard to imagine professional backcountry snowboarding as a thing without him.
And it didn’t end on the snow. Just as Kelly redefined what it meant to be “pro,” he redefined how snowboard products were developed. His input and collaboration on refining and creating new product, including Burton’s [ak] line of top-tier backcountry gear, solidified Burton’s “rider-driven” ethos.
Towards the end of his life, Kelly had found a place of peace and contentment deep in the mountains. Having co-founded Island Lake Lodge and the legendary Baldface Lodge, he found his purpose in bringing people into the environment that he loved so deeply. Kelly was in in the process of becoming the first fully certified snowboarder guide in the Canada Avalanche Association, and at the time of his passing had achieved the highest level of certification of any snowboarder.
This just scratches the surface of what Craig Kelly meant to snowboarding, and what he means to the history of Burton. Learn more about Craig, and find out how you can support the Craig Kelly scholarship fund that helps snowboarders pursuing guide training as a career path through Avalanche Canada.