Craig Gordon: The Know-Before-You-Go Guy

Craig Gordon, neither a fan of convention nor shirtless, finds his own groove. [Photo] Nick Snyder

After a deadly slide in 2003, the Utah Avalanche Center’s Craig Gordon knew it was time to change how the general public understood avalanches. The December slide, which took place on Mt. Timpanogos’s Elk Point, a notorious avalanche path, claimed the lives of three young men, one of whom wasn’t found until that Easter. It was a turning point for Gordon, and in 2004 the forecaster created Know Before You Go (KBYG), a nonprofit avalanche awareness program that targets inexperienced backcountry users, usually kids and young adults.

The program, which was revamped in 2015 in partnership with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center and Utah Avalanche Center and has now been presented to thousands of people, runs for roughly an hour and includes a 15-minute video and a slide presentation taught by an avalanche professional. The goal is to break down the basics of terrain navigation and avalanche hazards, and the programming focuses on five steps of preparation ranging from knowledge about gear to understanding the forecast. “The main methodology behind its success is simplicity,” Gordon says. “I crafted it in such a manner that if I was a kid in the back row, what would I think would catch my attention? Something dynamic, energetic and cool—the integrated science is basic in its approach to snow and snow dynamics.”

While the workshops often visit classrooms and school assemblies, the material is applicable for all ages. “This program is not just for kids,” notes Paul Diegel, special projects director for the Utah Avalanche Center. “Thousands of adult skiers, snowboarders, snowmobilers, hikers, hunters and others have learned from this exciting program.”

For Gordon, KBYG is just one aspect of his multifaceted career. Before joining the UAC in 2000, Gordon patrolled at Brighton Resort from 1986 to ’96 and spent two seasons heli-guiding in Utah’s Uinta Mountains—time, though while academically informal, he credits for building his foundation of reading snow and observing human nature as it relates to snow science. Gordon now serves as the UAC’s media coordinator and the only avalanche forecaster for the Uintas, working with skiers, riders and snowmobilers in the region to provide avalanche education.

And, sometimes, those skiers and riders come full circle. “I saw [KBYG] as a long-term thing,” Gordon says. “Sometimes, if I’m at a grocery store or a summer concert, someone now in their late 20s, early 30s will be like, ‘Hey, dude. I went to your KBYG presentation. Now my kid tells me that they went to it, too.’”

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