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P. Jim Ratz, 1952-2005

P. Jim Ratz 1952-2005

Jim Ratz reached an extraordinary number of people with his wisdom and deep friendship. In the weeks after his death in a climbing accident in Sinks Canyon, Wyoming, it became clear that the depth and frequency of communication I shared with Jim was not unique. Over 500 people from as far away as Tokyo, Taiwan, and Kenya gathered to remember him at a memorial service in Lander. He was a trusted advisor on any issue— personal or business—to a great number of people. To all who confided in him, he was our “go-to guy.” He was 52 when he died on May 4.

I first came to know Jim during his years with the National Outdoor Leadership School (1973-1995), which culminated with him serving 11 years as executive director. Under Jim’s leadership, NOLS grew in both size and scope: he opened the Patagonia, Southwest, and Canada programs, and published Soft Paths, the authoritative book on minimum-impact backcountry travel. Jim was also instrumental in starting NOLS’s research and public policy programs, as well as Leave No Trace.

In 1999 Jim and I joined Rob and Kathryn Hess to purchase Jackson Hole Mountain Guides. With Jim as president and guide, we grew substantially and opened operations in Cody, Wyoming, and Moab, Utah, which added to the existing offices in Jackson and Las Vegas. Guides and clients were extremely fond of Jim as an employer, guide, and friend.

Jim was very active in civic leadership and involved in many organizations. Beginning in 2000 he served as a director of the American Mountain Guides Association, serving as the board’s vice president since 2002. He devoted himself to the Lander Valley High School swim team, was director of the Lander Swim Club Board, an official of USA Swimming, and on the Board of Review for Wyoming Swimming Inc. Other organizations he was involved with included: cChairman of Leave No Trace, Inc; Advisory Board of the World Wilderness Congress; Rotary International; American Alpine Club; Natural Resources Defense Council; Association for Experiential Education; National Speleological Society; Advisory Board of the Rawlins District Bureau of Land Management; recipient of the first National Partnership Award from the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management; member of the Wilderness Working Group of the Society of American Foresters; Founder, NOLS 1994 Wilderness Risk Management Committee and Conference; Founder, NOLS Wilderness Medicine Symposium 1986; Founder NOLS Wilderness Education and Leadership Symposium 1985; and cofounder NOLS Wilderness Research Colloquium. He was also an Eagle Scout.

Jim’s work and love for the mountains frequently took him into the Tetons and the Wind Rivers, and occasionally to more distant peaks including Denali, Aconcagua, and Kilimanjaro. He also loved sunny afternoon climbing with his friends in Sinks Canyon, where he made numerous first ascents.

While Jim dedicated his life to outdoor education and the preservation of wilderness, he was passionate about preserving as much time as possible with his wife, Lantien, and their children, Mei (16) and Willy (12), to whom he was devoted. Friends of the family have organized a memorial fund for college or any other need of Mei and Willy. Donations may be sent to The Jim Ratz Memorial Fund at the Wyoming Employees Federal Credit Union, 873 W. Main St., Lander, WY 82520; (307) 332-3120.

Phil Powers, AAC