Teleskier, Humanitarian Kasha Rigby Leaves a Legacy of Uplifting Others

For decades, pioneering skier Catherine “Kasha” Rigby traveled the world, but over the past couple of years, she started thinking about settling down. Rigby had a list of accolades and accomplishments, a passport full of stamps and a purpose as a United Nations aid worker. As she entered her 50s, she began rekindling old friendships, she got engaged, she began to think about life in one place. 

A light in the mountains and beyond, Kasha Rigby inspired generations of people. Mary McIntyre

“We reconnected last year around April and we’ve been talking so much ever since,” says Heather Paul Featherman. “She’s really been trying to reconnect with all her friends.” Featherman and Rigby have known each other for more than three decades, since they moved to Crested Butte, Colorado, and became part of the teleskiing race circuit in the 1990s. More than competitors, the pair became fast friends, driven by the free-heeled life on snow. Rigby took Featherman out for her first backcountry tour; they spent dozens of weekends driving to Salt Lake City for skiing. “A lot of people sort of used to clump us together because we were both female tele skiers,” Featherman says. “She never made you feel like she was out to get you, and her successes were always shared because she was so supportive of all the other women.”

Rigby embraces a local on a ski trip in Uganda. Mary McIntyre

Though Rigby was recently still jet setting, doing aid work in Bangladesh or traveling Eastern Europe with her fiancé, Magnus Wolfe Murray, she kept the epistolary threads between her and Featherman tight. But Featherman received news this week, not from Rigby, but about her. 

For the last few months, Rigby and Wolfe Murray had been traveling and skiing, embracing backcountry laps at resorts with uphill routes, in what she was calling on Instagram #tourdepiste. Most recently, they were in Kosovo, at the Ski Center in Brezovica. On Tuesday the pair were skiing in the Eagle’s Nest area when Rigby was caught in an avalanche, and though it was small, it swept her into trees, where she was killed on impact. Wolfe Murray was able to reach her in 20 seconds. He attempted resuscitation without success.

Rigby’s last Instagram post reads: “#keepingitreal. Sideways rain, a big melt, and winds too high to run lifts, doesn’t keep these skiers and sledders off the t-bar and slope. While seeking winter our #tourdepiste continues, running the fringes of resorts. We have had a few chances to poke around up high, but today we were back in the lower country. Still just happy to be in the snow. @mag_wolfed_ @brezovica_resort

An outpouring of comments has flooded the post, with many praising her impact on the skiing community over the past three-plus decades. Others have called Backcountry Magazine to share their memories.

“Kasha was bigger than skiing,” says longtime Backcountry editor Adam Howard, who grew up just over the hill from Rigby in Vermont and later attended Western Colorado University with her. “Among so much more, she embodied compassion and free-spiritedness. The whole outdoor and ski world is just gutted to lose such a special soul. There was a magic in her.”

With and without skis on her back, Rigby traveled the world. From Alaska to Ecuador, Mongolia to Bangladesh. Mary McIntyre

Born and raised in Stowe, Vermont, Rigby first dug her edges into East Coast ice, before moving west to Crested Butte, Colorado. Like many professional skiers she started her career on the competition circuit, first with tele races, then big mountain contests. But, as Featherman says, Rigby never loved racing. Instead she connected with the experience of being in nature, of moving on skis beneath sunrises and sunsets. “She did it purely out of joy,” Featherman says. “Everything she did was joy.” That outlook led Rigby toward expedition skiing. Her adventures took her all over the world, from Bolivia to India to Alaska.

Along the way, she notched many first descents and notable peaks. She is recognized for having the first climb and ski descent of Cho Oyu (26,907 feet), also credited as the first telemark descent; for her Mongolia Women’s Ski Expedition, in which her team was first to ski the Five Holy Peaks in Tavan Bogd (including Kuitan, the highest peak in Mongolia); the Hanuman Tibba Women’s Expedition, including a first ski descent of RFHP, a 8,202-foot couloir in the Himachal Pradesh region of India; the Kamchatka Women’s Ski Expedition, the first ski descent of Mount Udina and Mount Zimina; as well as the first female ski descent of Mount Tolbachik (all telemarked).

As part of The North Face’s athlete team, she became a close, regular climbing partner of Hilaree Nelson, another pioneering ski mountaineer. Together, they put together the Hanuman Tibba Women’s Expedition, which included guide Margaret Wheeler. “We were all women in the middle of freaking nowhere,” Wheeler said in a 2022 Seattle Times story. “I’d never had that experience with a group of women. I learned that I could connect and thrive in an all-female environment.”

A pioneering ski mountaineer, Rigby’s expeditions included numerous first descents, many on telemark skis. Mary McIntyre
Between skiing couloirs straight to the ocean and watching the northern lights, Rigby enjoys a peaceful moment on the water during a sail to ski trip in Iceland. Mary McIntyre

Her impact on women was felt across generations. Former Black Diamond athlete Mary McIntyre first met Rigby when she was 16 in Boulder, Utah. “I just heard stories about Kasha being this badass woman ski mountaineer,” McIntyre recalls. “I always really looked up to her.” As she grew up, McIntyre felt lucky to become friends with Rigby, eventually accompanying her role model on expeditions to Iceland and Uganda. Even as their paths veered in different directions, the two stayed in touch. Brooke Edwards, an American Mountain Guides Association apprentice ski guide, was introduced to Rigby heli-skiing in Alaska. The two instantly clicked and began guiding various Alaskan adventures together. “It’s like she harvested joy for a living,” Edwards says.

Looking down her line, Rigby prepares to ski to the sea in Iceland. Mary McIntyre

While her love of freedom and travel pulled Rigby all over the globe, she found a home in Boulder with longtime friend and expedition partner Ace Kvale, who she lived with on and off for nearly a decade. After they met in Crested Butte, Kvale remembers thinking, “You are going to be part of my life, and I’m going to be part of your life.” The feeling wasn’t romantic, but “more like this is someone I need to know.” He invited Rigby and her then-boyfriend to join him on a ski expedition to Ecuador. It turned out to be the first of many. In the years that followed, Kvale and Rigby traveled and skied together all over the world.

As she aged, while skiing always remained in the picture, Rigby’s scope of adventures broadened. She worked in refugee camps and aid programs, finding purpose in uplifting those impacted by the myriad global crises that have displaced millions in recent decades. While surfing and working for The World Food Programme in Bangladesh, she met Wolfe Murray. More recently, they were in Turkey doing earthquake relief work.

Rigby shares a ride with a group of refugee girls while working for the World Food Programme in Bangladesh. Magnus Wolfe Murray

In a letter, Rigby told Featherman the couple would be getting married this year in Edinburgh, Scotland, where Wolfe had a job lined up and they would settle down, at least for a while. 

“She was definitely a wild wanderer and we were all just so happy that she’d found someone that wanted to do that with her,” says McIntyre. “It was like she finally found her place and her person.”

Rigby with fiancé Magnus Wolfe Murray. Magnus Wolfe Murray

It’s impossible to tally the impact of a life lived like Rigby’s. Certainly, memories and remembrances will continue to pour in from those who spent time in the mountains with her. Then there are those who have seen their lives improved by her efforts as an aid worker. Because no matter the venue—skiing, mountaineering, aid work—Rigby dedicated her life to both adventuring and uplifting others. “She was the woman who lifted up other women; she was the girl who always welcomed people into her realm and shared it,” Featherman says. “She was amazing. There is rarely a woman you come across that is that supportive.”

Immersed in the joy of skiing, Rigby cuts through powder at Snowbird, Utah. Corey Richards

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