Well-known Utah Avalanche Center (UtahAvalancheCenter.org) forecaster Craig Gordon is the face of backcountry accident prevention and safety. We see him on TV and teaching numerous classes and on-the-snow workshops. But when the snow has melted, fitness is his life.
Where do you come from and how did you get into avalanche forecasting?
When I was 14, I came to Utah from Long Beach Island, N.J., on a ski vacation. A few days into a storm cycle, the skies turned blue as I got off the top of the old Collins chairlift at Alta. It was magical as I watched two ski patrollers come across Mount Baldy throwing bombs, triggering small avalanches, but, better yet, skiing powder. I thought, "That looks like a pretty good gig to me, and this is what I am going to come back and do." At age 22, I enrolled at the University of Utah.
In 1986, I became a Brighton ski patroller and, two years later, returned to the U for an avalanche-forecasting and snow-dynamics class with Peter Lev, avalanche forecaster with the Utah Department of Transportation. That's when the light bulb went on. I realized I can really make a living working with avalanches.
In spite of the Center's great work, people still die in avalanches. Why?
I'll tell you what's interesting about snow. Ninety-nine times out of 100, nature allows you to get away with it. Then there is one time, maybe, that you don't recognize something is slightly different. And I think that's probably when most experienced people get tricked by a nuance in the snowpack.
Do you think those deaths are due to a lack of awareness?
There are those who have absolutely no awareness and those who do. I developed a successful awareness program called Know Before You Go, seen by nearly 300,000 middle-school, high-school and college-age kids here in Utah. That helps.
Is your whole life wrapped up in the backcountry, or is there more to Craig Gordon?
For many years, my life was 100 percent snow and avalanches. I spent 10 years working at Brighton. In the summer, I ran their trail crew, but in the last couple of years, I have come to embrace the off-season. I love the beach, the ocean, time in the gym and playing tennis.
My wife and I are vegans and sustain a plant-based diet and clean lifestyle, close to the earth. You can be a really fit badass just eating plants. I dispel the myth that you have to eat meat to be strong. My core philosophy is to be peaceful, live in balance and harmony with other living things and, hopefully, not hurt anything along the way. We live with three parrots [one of which is pictured above] and connecting with them helps me understand myself and the impact we have on the earth and all living creatures.
Is that life philosophy why you do what you do?
I'm passionate with what we do at the avalanche center because we saves lives and give people a foundation to get out and enjoy the amazing backcountry without rolling the dice.