When Kim Francom remembered Jessie Gardiner, the image of how they met rang crystal clear.
Some 25 years ago, Gardiner had appeared on horseback, riding down a road in Park City, Utah. At the time, Francom had an adaptive horse-riding program in the area, and Gardiner immediately volunteered her services.
Twenty years later, Francom needed a winter specialist as the Canyon Parks supervisor in Springville, Utah. He had made a point to keep in touch with Gardiner, a nordic skiing instructor and judge at the Salt Lake City Olympics, and she became his first recreation employee at Jolley’s Ranch.
On Saturday, Gardiner, 63, passed away at home in Salem, Utah. According to the Provo Daily Herald, she had battled breast cancer and left her husband of 10 years, James.
A teacher by nature, Gardiner instructed at several Utah ski resorts, including Sundance and Soldier Hollow. Her cross-country skiing expertise earned her an officiating position at the 2002 Olympics, years after she raced alpine at a high level.
According to Francom, she continued to telemark ski and instructed at Sundance. She had worked as a forest ranger and substitute teacher, speaking at schools and encouraging children to get outside.
In her five years of teaching mostly beginners at Jolley’s Ranch, she helped the program grow about five times in size, said Francom, now parks superintendent.
“She was adamant about everybody learning and having fun,” he said. “She had people that came up and participated in recreation just because she was there.”
She taught children as young as 2, and when there weren’t snowshoe rentals small enough for them, she used her own money provide some, he said.
“You would never find a more passionate person that was involved in nordic skiing and tele skiing,” Francom said.
Gardiner instructed through the 2011 season, even after being diagnosed with breast cancer. Francom said she responded well to the chemotherapy, but a few months ago, was hit with bad news.
“She was sick again,” Francom said. “ We’re going to miss her. I’m going to miss her a lot, she’s a good buddy.”
He recalled Gardiner’s endless energy and how she let her Labrador named Snickers pull her on skis. She set the track at Jolley’s and also helped run the tubing hill.
“All that 85 pounds of her,” Francom said. “She could shovel snow with the best of us.”
Alex Kochon (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.