Rob Dixon Hart, 51, owner of Crazy Creek Products in Red Lodge, Mont., died on Feb. 20 after a collision with a tree on Big Silver run at Red Lodge Mountain. Hart died of blunt force trauma to the chest, according to a statement attributed to Lt. Josh McQuillan of the Carbon County Sheriff’s Department that appeared in a Sunday, Feb. 22 story in the Billings (Montana) Gazette.
In a local Billings KULR-TV report, Ron Ringer, general manager of Red Lodge Mountain, stated that Hart was apparently skiing alone, and another skier discovered him lying in the snow. Paramedics performed CPR upon arrival to the scene but could not revive Hart, who died at approximately 2 p.m. Friends of Hart confirmed with SNEWS® that Hart was wearing a helmet at the time of the accident.
Hart was no stranger to adventure. Many people SNEWS spoke with for this story stated simply that having fun while living life outdoors was core to Hart’s being. We were told that Hart decided during college to let the world become his teacher, and served as chief executive of the World Pro Fun Tour. The tour’s motto was “You can work all of your life to go to the beach, or you can just go to the beach!” The Tour gave him the perfect opportunity to develop his climbing skills, a passion first kindled at his family’s ranch in the mountains of Wyoming and during family vacations in Switzerland.
His first major climb was as a member of Fred Beckey’s 1982 Ru-Dshe-Konka expedition in the Chinese Himalayas. Later expeditions took him to almost every continent and included National Geographic’s exploration and climb through Patagonia’s Cordillera Sarmiento region and Norman Vaughn’s return expedition to Antarctica. Hart later guided two expeditions of his own in Antarctica, and several climbs of Mount Aconcagua in Argentina. Hart climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania with his brother Doug, nephew Austin Hart and Jim Kadous of Red Lodge in 2004. Hart most recently led an expedition to climb Mount Tupungato in Chile with his wife Trenay, brother Doug, nephews Austin Hart and Brandon Goldstein and several friends.
Hart founded two expedition companies (Burnt Mountain Ski Inc., and Beartooth Mountain Guides), and guided clients and friends in the Beartooth Mountains of Montana and the Absaroka Mountains of Wyoming. Hart was also part owner of the Red Lodge International Summer Ski and Snowboard Camp on the Beartooth Highway just outside Red Lodge.
A strong proponent of preserving Montana's lands for recreation, Hart believed in the intrinsic and economic value of wild places and actively promoted recreation as a viable and sustainable use of public lands. In a Billings Gazette opinion piece he wrote in 2003, Hart urged policymakers to take preservation into consideration because, he said, "without a strong national policy, we live with the real threat that these recreational treasures will be frittered away over time, road by road, section by section. And once these areas are lost, they are lost forever."
It was Hart’s first invention, though, that would publicly define the man and launch a company – the Crazy Creek Chair. In 1987, along with his first wife, Louise “Weezie” Chandler, Hart began tinkering with a folding, wooden chair used by paddlers. As Hart once told now-SNEWS President Michael Hodgson during a mid-1990s interview, he was trying “to create something that would provide a warm, dry and comfortable place to put my butt in and then lean back on.” Hart told us a few years ago that he never imagined that a simple folding chair would prove to be so popular.
“I was starting working for Outward Bound in 1988 and at that time Voyageur Outward Bound School was running a summer hiking program at Red Lodge, and a lot of the early VOB’s guides were using Crazy Creek chairs,” Dave Matz, president of the Grassroots Outdoor Alliance told SNEWS. “We all ordered direct from Rob because it was the most comfortable and portable chair any of us had used. It was ideal for us to be sitting around and talking with our students, or fishing, or simply relaxing. Before long you saw them everywhere.”
Crazy Creek Products was launched in 1988, and one could argue that Crazy Creek and Hart are responsible for introducing comfort into the backpacking and mountaineering equation. A pad of closed cell foam was no longer good enough. Though there have been many imitators, it is significant that the original Crazy Creek Chair is still produced today. The company’s product lines have expanded to include several styles of chairs designed for a multitude of uses, reflecting Hart’s desire to create comfort in the wilderness or at home.
“When I was at Lowe, we were neighbors with Crazy Creek on the show floor. I got to know him pretty well. Rob was one of those rare guys who just exuded what the outdoors was all about,” Frank Hugelmeyer, president of the Outdoor Industry Association told us. “His product says it all. The outdoors is about having the time of your life and then rocking back with your friends to share that great time all over again.”
Though he never patented the original chair design, Hart has had five patents to his name since 2002: a Thermal device for maintaining the temperature of body extremes, a backpacker’s hammock and ground bivy, a modular collapsible chair, a combination chair and folding table, and a chair-mountable folding table.
It should come as no surprise to any that as a Montana resident, Hart loved to hunt and fly fish. Hart was also a skilled horseman and herded cattle at his family’s ranch, cowboyed at the ORO Ranch in Arizona, and often competed at the Ski-Joring Finals in Red Lodge.
In 2006, Hart met Trenay Allen. When they met she was a physician’s assistant in Billings and was building a house in Red Lodge. Hart and Trenay were married at Edgar, Mont., in September of 2006.
“Crazy Creek will remain open for business. While our hearts are sad, we will be carrying on the business operation,” said Crazy Creek’s Carol Wohlleben in an email message to friends, family and business associates. “John Elsberry, former business manager for Crazy Creek from 1989-2000, will be taking over immediately as general manager. Crazy Creek will be well-served by his steady and intelligent leadership. Walter Goldstein will remain involved on the marketing and management side of the business. Rob's brother Doug Hart will remain as a director of the company. While we are all heavily saddened by Rob's departure, we want to make Rob proud. We look forward to working with you all to continue to make Crazy Creek a success.”
Hart is survived by his wife, Trenay Hart, of Red Lodge and Billings; his daughter Abra Gasser and granddaughter Ashby, of Phoenix, Ariz.; his mother, Margaret S. Hart of Lake Forest, Ill.; two brothers, Augustin S. (Becky) Hart III of Oquawka, Ill.; and Douglas S. (Harriet Corbett) Hart of Powell, Wyo.; two sisters, Kathryn (Robert) Lansing of Lake Forest, Ill., and Heather Hart (married to Walter Goldstein) of Bozeman, Mont. He is also survived by his in-laws Chuck and Candace Allen of Mount Vernon, Iowa; by three aunts, three uncles, three nieces and seven nephews, and his two hunting Labs, Chug and Khumbu.
A celebration of his life will be held at the Spring Creek Equine Facility at the Red Lodge Vet Clinic (Beug Arena) at 3 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 27.
In lieu of flowers, donations in Rob's memory can be made to the "Rob Hart Memorial Fund," c/o Red Lodge Ski Patrol, P.O. Box 750, Red Lodge, MT 59068.
SNEWS® View: It is getting harder to write these memorials to friends. He is another industry class act that is gone too soon, but never to be forgotten. Rob would find great humor in the fact that the legacy for such an active man is one that encourages sitting down. In truth, what his chairs were really about was central to the man – it was not so much about sitting, as it was about having somewhere comfortable to kick back that encouraged sharing and reflection with friends and family, or simply spending some quiet time by yourself. More tales than we will ever imagine have been refined and shared while perched on one of Rob’s creations. More quiet time has been realized. More reflection and introspection has been inspired and enjoyed outdoors as a result.
So, with the above in mind, we’d like to propose that sometime this week, winter be dammed, you each grab an old Crazy Creek chair from your gear shed or closet. Call out to your closest friends or your nearby family and ask them to join you outdoors by a fire or on the floor of a cabin in front of a hot stove. And then just sit. Talk about love and life and living. Talk about adventures experienced and still to come. Talk and laugh about anything at all, but do it with family and friends. And know that somewhere, Rob will be smiling with the knowledge that because of him, you are all together, sharing, taking time to slow down, and that your ass is comfortable too.