By: Jackson Hogen
Published: February 7, 2019
Peter Keelty didn’t just live life, he devoured it. The bright light that drove him to excel would forever wrestle with the darker impulses that arose whenever he indulged his passions, which were many.
Before I go any further, I must beg my Dear Readers’ forbearance. This isn’t a proper obituary for a soul who drew his last, struggling breath on February 5. I don’t have the dates for when he went to college, but I remember the pain in his voice when he recalled how a senior-year transgression at prep school caused him to lose his chance to go to Princeton. I don’t know when he patrolled at Stowe, but I know that the peripatetic Peter always considered that part of the world his true home. I don’t know how much he contributed to John Clendenin’s instruction opus, Four Words for Great Skiing, but I know he was justifiably proud of his role.
I first met Peter when he was the Salomon rep for New York City and Connecticut, unaware at the time that within two years the two of us would become responsible for turning binding certification into an Educational Services profit center for Salomon. His nickname among his peers was The Deacon, perhaps because he then had the flowing beard of a Biblical prophet. As Manhattan, then as now, was inhospitable to cars, he would ride from dealer to dealer on a rudimentary bicycle, his binding demo boards rattling in the basket between the handlebars.
Peter was a talented writer whose editorial suggestions were always well considered. His quips were razor sharp, his agile sense of humor always percolating just below the surface. If in his later years he took umbrage easily, in his heyday his first instinct was to laugh, a rich baritone of staccato bursts that somehow communicated a meta-awareness of just whom the joke was on.
While Peter and I worked side by side as product managers his third marriage was nearing the end of an arc traced by the first two; his hair-trigger wit and dashing countenance were catnip to women, and he knew it. This isn’t a behavior pattern conducive to long-term relationships, yet by the time he settled in Utah with Sue Ellen his appetite for the hunt had abated. He gradually had to let go of all the addictions that had gnawed at him for decades, the last being cigarettes, which he used to chew on when he smoked.
I take that back. He never gave up his addiction to skiing. I was right behind him on his last run, which happened to be closing day at Alta three years ago. Right to the end, Peter was trying to coach me, demonstrating the carved turn he wished me to emulate. He could only ski 100 yards at a stretch before his failing lung capacity compelled him to pull over, but this didn’t interfere with the teacher-student relationship. He was still in a Stein-like, comma stance when he sailed into the empty lift maze at the bottom of Collins lift.
As far as I know, Peter never skied again, his final entanglement in a web of lift-maze ropes the epitaph for a life fueled by full-speed-ahead confidence. Who wants to be remembered that way, not when they once could soar over canyons?
Which actually happened, sort of. I think it was at Beaver Creek – I warned you this wasn’t an official obituary – early in the season, before there’s full cover on the lower mountain. Peter and I are not so patiently waiting for the hosted part of our descent to conclude so we can tear down the rest of the mountain. No reason. It just seems like the natural thing to do.
To say that there was a competitive strain in our relationship will not get you a degree in psychology. We cut out all unnecessary turning just when less obsessed folk might have been dialing it back, given the increasingly large brown patches all over the trail. We both saw the lip at the last moment and it wasn’t until we were in the air, side by side, twenty feet above a storage yard for the grooming fleet, that we realized just how short life could be.
How we both lived I’m not really sure. I’m pretty sure I didn’t wipe out, and I bet that if Peter were alive today, he’d say he made it, too.
Godspeed, Peter. There will never be another like you.