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Craig Kelly Killed in Avalanche
Photo Restrospective: Craig Kelly

Chillin' with Craig Kelly
Craig Hangs with the Kids
24 FEB 2000

Washington's not the chilliest of Western States, but it's cold on this clear, late February night as we stand on the lip of the Stevens Pass halfpipe, awaiting the arrival of "the superstar."

If he doesn't get here soon, his newfound fans are just going to have to start riding again. It's not every day they get to meet a world-famous snowboarder, but until this winter, they never would have had the chance to strap on a board, either.

Shane is sick of waiting to see how it's done and decides to take a stab at the pipe, solo. I turn to see his feet and board sticking straight up out of the pipe. (The walls are so steep and icy, he thinks crawling in on his stomach is the only safe way of dropping in.) He gets down in there and stands up, takes a stab at riding up the wall, but doesn't quite make it. It's only his third time snowboarding, pipe or no pipe.

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(8 Pictures)

Then he arrives. Craig Kelly, the namesake of one of the first pro model Burton boards, seven-time World Champion, and present-day globe-trotting freerider, takes a gander at the uninviting trench, chuckles and says, "I haven't ridden a pipe forever."

Kelly doesn't do much freestyle riding these days, but you'd hardly guess. Other riders, none of whom realize they're sharing the pipe with a master, come out of nowhere, taking impressive kamikaze-type airs. No one can match Kelly's fluidity. There's no question his style and his coolness under pressure is what these kids should emulate. And he's here tonight because he believes in these kids and he believes in Chill.

Burton Snowboards started the Chill program four years ago as a way of giving kids from all sorts of backgrounds, who would not otherwise have this opportunity, the chance to experience the joys of falling and sliding around on snow and, eventually, of really riding a snowboard.

A non-profit organization, Chill is run through funding from Burton, with additional support from Mitsubishi Motors, Nantucket Nectars and REI, and the work of 11 staff members in five cities: Seattle, WA; Boston, MA; New York, NY; Burlington, VT; and Los Angeles, CA. This season, there are 850 kids enjoying turns through Chill, that's broken down to 170 kids per site. During the inaugural '95-'96 season, there were 100 Chill participants. Since then, 2,500 youth have been taken to the hills.

Chill provides the goods, the transport, instruction and lift tickets and the kids throw in an eagerness to learn something new. Besides, snowboarding is way cool. And they know it.

"We're all about snowboarding here." Maggie Harper

Some of the kids simply fall into an economic slot that doesn't allow for luxuries such as snowboarding; others have had very difficult upbringings and are now living in group homes. Some are as young as 11, others are in their late teens.

Because everyone comes from such a varied background, the folks with Chill don't try to act as counselors to the kids, in a traditional sense. Seattle Chill coordinators Maggie Harper and Mike Lovely are there only to help with logistics and, of course, to ride with the kids, all of whom live in Seattle.

"They all get along so well. It's amazing," says Harper. They might not relate to each other off the hill, but she adds, "we're all about snowboarding here."

It's week three, and this group of 36 fledgling snowboarders have two more nights of riding. After that, it's hard to say when, or if, they'll get the chance to ride again. Jittery and anxious, they know their time is running out.

Burton and the other Chill sponsors are working toward adding programs in other cities, including Denver. As for the Seattle Chillers, they're sold on snowboarding, and Craig Kelly definitely got a big thumbs up from the crowd. "I'm going to have him sign about five different things," said one.

Mary Catherine O'Connor, MountainZone.com Staff

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