For anyone who crossed his path in life, Gary Peck was an unforgettable guy. He served four decades as a ski patrol member, patrol trainer and race coach at Mount Spokane. Peck inspired hundreds of people to give their full measure, and have the time of their lives in the process.
Last April, he was killed in an accident on the highway just south of Colville. His death at age 71 knocked the wind out of everyone who knew him.
“I skied and patrolled with Gary for 35 years,” said Randy Foiles, director of the Mt. Spokane Ski Patrol. “He was one of my best and closest friends. I’m not sure how I’m going to get through this winter, but talking about him helps.”
The ski patrol and the mountain at large are honoring the memory of Peck this season. A campaign has begun to name one of the runs in Mt. Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park’s new expansion area after him.
On the ski patrol, a member’s radio call number becomes a proud badge of identity. For the first time, the MSSP will retire one of those numbers. Peck’s number, 120, will be ceremonially retired in a torchlight procession sometime in late January.
“For only about the third time in 80 years, we’re going to have a memorial torchlight procession from the top of chair three down to the patrol building,” Foiles said. “We’ll have one last call for radio number 120. No one will be 120 again.”
Peck will be remembered for his relentlessly positive demeanor and infectious smile. I served on the MSSP for two seasons and I just felt happy about life in general when he was around. I had the privilege of responding to an injury with Peck by my side and became a better patrol member because of it.
“Gary was committed to the mountain in so many directions,” Foiles said. “He was always positive and fun. And the party didn’t start until Gary got there. He had one of those personalities bigger than the room. He was someone I just always wanted to be with.”
Peck was raised in Chewelah, Washington. He worked at what is now called MultiCare Deaconess Hospital in Spokane for more than 20 years in administration. Eventually he returned to his hometown and was the CEO of what is now called Providence St. Joseph’s Hospital in Chewelah. He also served as interim hospital administrator for Ritzville and Colfax community hospitals.
He’s an MSSP Hall of Fame member. In 1986, he received a national appointment from the National Ski Patrol. National appointments recognize patrol members who go above and beyond to offer extraordinary service to the NSP. In 1996, he was given the MSSP Director’s Award for outstanding leadership. In 1997, he received the NSP’s Marlen Guell award for 25 years of excellence.
To be immortalized on the trail map is only fitting. I’d like to think that had Peck reached a ripe old age, it would have happened anyhow.
Peck’s mountain presence was strong. I benefited from it before I met him. About 11 years ago, I was working on a story for this column about the Wednesday Night World Cup, a six-week team racing series that used to happen at Mount Spokane.
I showed up and asked the organizers if I could race. As luck would have it, Peck couldn’t make it that night. His team let me race in his spot. To keep everything on the up and up, my name was Gary Peck. I skied as well as I have.
I like to believe that hijacking Gary’s identity that night may have had something to do with my performance. When I met him on the ski patrol a few years later, I thanked him. He got a kick out of my theory.
“Even at 70 years old, Gary only had one speed – fast,” Foiles said. “On every run, he would go all out. He had that natural exuberance and fun about him that I don’t think you can replace.”
You can tip you hat to Peck’s memory by supporting the run-naming campaign. The MSSP is offering a pin created in his honor for a $10 donation.
“We’ve created his likeness as close as we can on a 1-inch metal pin,” Foiles said. “Even the color of his skis and boots – and a knit hat, not a helmet, because Gary never wore a helmet.
“On the pin are the words: “Gary Peck, with us forever, patroller, coach and friend.”