Beck, Clayton Stephen
Clayton Stephen Beck ” ski coach, adventurer, aviator, family man and friend ” died on a beautiful mountainside overlooking one of his favorite spots, the Sierra Valley, on July 2, 2008.
Clay took his plane up for a brief flight around the Truckee area on that Wednesday. He experienced a mechanical failure soon after takeoff, struggled to maintain altitude to an emergency landing strip nearby and didn’t clear a ridgeline. An army of athletes, Olympians , X-Game champions, friends, family, community volunteers and officials spent 72 hours in an intensive search and rescue effort. Clay’s plane was found on Saturday, July 5 by members of the California Civil Air Patrol.
Born Jan. 11, 1971, in Truckee, Clay spent his early years growing up at Lake Tahoe in Carnelian Bay. Clay learned to ski from his dad, Craig, when he was two years old and never looked back. It became one of his lifelong passions and led to his eventual career as a ski coach.
A lifelong resident of Tahoe-Truckee after graduation from the University of Nevada, Reno, Clay founded the Alpine Meadows Freestyle Team and coached Freestyle for the past 11 years. Shannon Bahrke, a silver medalist at the 2002 Winter Olympics, was a pupil of Clay’s since the sixth grade. Clay coached many other athletes to medals in national championships and Junior Olympics, including his brother David Beck, who won the silver in dual moguls.
Current Canadian national champion, Mike Wilson, and U.S. national champion/halfpipe, David Wise, were coached by Clay, as well as his cousin, K.C. Oakley who recently placed third at Nationals in dual moguls. Clay installed a giant trampoline in his backyard for skiers to practice on and knew his students well enough to advise them on family matters.
In 2002, Clay’s Alpine Meadows Freestyle Team won the United States Ski and Snowboard Association’s most prestigious award ” Freestyle Ski Team of the Year.
Clay also always found time to ski with his family and enjoyed many days on the slopes with his lovely wife, Lisa. Clay was the winner of the Olympic Longboard Demonstration event at Salt Lake in 2002 and was the 2003 National Longboard Champion.
A third generation of Beck family pilots, Clay loved to fly from the time he was a little boy. Clay’s father Craig sewed him a special harness so that he could fly in his hang-glider with him when he was six and was flying them by himself when he was 12. Clay’s grandfather, Don Beck, was considered one of the most skilled bi-plane pilots in the world, and Clay loved to fly with his father and grandfather. Don’s racing bi-plane the Sorceress is on display in the Smithsonian Aviation Museum.
Clay was also an avid sailplane pilot, getting his license when he was 16, and spent many hours soaring over the mountains around Lake Tahoe. Clay was a member of the Experimental Aircraft Association.
His sense of adventure led him to many places in his life. The mountains of Nevada, Colorado, Utah, Canada, Switzerland and Norway were familiar spots to him. Clay knew every great spot in the Sierra, and you would not be surprised to see him on top of Mt. Whitney, Half Dome or some enormous cliff like Goliath just getting ready to jump off into the icy waters of the Yuba River ” and encouraging you to go with him.
If you got in trouble he was there to help. In 2006, Clay made local headlines for rescuing a drowning triathlete from the bottom of Donner Lake. It was his seventh drowning victim rescue. It earned him the nickname “Guardian Angel.”
Clay always greeted you with a huge, warm smile. He had an incredibly happy personality that made you feel good to be around him. He was always an adventurer, who liked to have lots of other adventurous souls around him.
But even more than skiing, flying or adventuring, Clay loved his family most of all. Picnics, barbecues and outings on Lake Tahoe with his wife and family were his favorite things. He took his new son Parker hiking, flying, swimming and adventuring, and Parker loved being with his Dad. Clay and his wife Lisa visited many places in their five years together. They loved to spend time in the wine country with Lisa’s mother, Joanne Johnson, and Lisa’s sisters, Michele Johnson, Christina Johnson and Jill Beaman.
They honeymooned in Kauai, hiked to waterfalls in Sundance, Utah, explored the glacial peaks around Whitefish, Mont., and Park City. Lisa went with Clay to Torino, Italy, when he coached Shannon Bahrke at the 2006 Winter Olympics. But most of all they liked living here in Truckee where they truly felt they had the best of both worlds and so many wonderful friends.
Surviving Clay are his wife, Lisa Beck, and sons Parker Beck, 2, and Joseph Tucker Beck, 3 weeks, in Truckee, as well as his parents, Craig and Cindy Beck; his brother, David Beck, and his sister Emily Hammer.
A memorial service in Clay’s honor will be held on Sunday, July 13 at the North Lake Tahoe Community Conference Center in Kings Beach from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Memorial contributions may be made to: Bank of the West, 11202 Donner Pass Road, Truckee, Ca. 96161, Benefit for Parker and Joseph Tucker Beck. Checks should be made payable to: Lisa Beck for the benefit of (FBO) Parker and Joseph Beck.