Craig Kjesbo, or "Cheeso" as he was known throughout the Wood River Valley, passed away early Sunday morning after a three-year battle with cancer.
A fixture on the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation's coaching staff for 26 years, Kjesbo had a passion for the sport that stood out even in an area replete with passionate skiers.
The Fargo, N.D., native, who would have turned 58 in February, moved to Sun Valley in 1974 after attending Montana State University and quickly became known as a free skier with an appetite for challenging and extreme terrain.
But while his adventurous spirit led him all over the backcountry, including his favorite spot, Durrance Peak, Kjesbo found his calling as a ski teacher, helping local skiers like Zach and Reggie Crist, Kent Kreitler and Lynsey Dyer.
For more than a quarter of a century, he was a favorite with the Sun Valley Ski Team athletes, heading up the "C" Travel Team since 2002.
"Smooth and steady, Cheeso was always the first coach at the start and the last to go home," said Lane Monroe, former Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation executive director and head alpine coach, during the 2008 Game Dinner in November, where Kjesbo was honored with the Jack Simpson Dedicated Coach Award.
"There was never a bad day on the mountain for Cheeso, and he translated that to all the kids he coached," Monroe said.
Longtime friend and former Sun Valley Ski Team coach Jeff Enos noted how Kjesbo's enthusiasm for the sport was imparted to his athletes.
"He always believed he could do more with a less skilled kid that had a good attitude," said Enos, who spent Sunday careening around Bald Mountain on a pair of Cheeso's old 210-centimeter race skis. "Many of the coaches up there now were connected with Cheeso in some way, so his dynamic and philosophy are still ingrained in the team. If they can keep that going, the ski program will be solid for a long time."
"To lose coaches like that, you lose the essence of the sport," Enos said.
Kjesbo was diagnosed with brain and lung cancer in early 2006, discovered after an accident he had while working as a stucco plasterer with Craig Brooks Inc., where he was employed for over 30 years. He is survived by his wife, Kary, and son, Ethan.
Enos recalled days of Kjesbo's making perfect turns on Baldy even in the worst snow conditions when everyone else was floundering through the crud.
"When people complained about the snow he would reply it was great and add, 'There's no bad snow, just bad skiers,'" Enos said.
A skilled mountain biker and all-around athlete, Kjesbo was a purist, spearheading an effort to keep helicopters from delivering skiers to the top of Durrance Peak.
Knowing his love for that peak, Kary is planning a tribute for her late husband at Durrance this spring, though the date has yet to be determined. While this will give friends the opportunity to remember the beloved coach at his favorite spot, Enos said Kjesbo is already there.
"He's making turns on Durrance today—he just doesn't need to climb any more."