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In Loving Memory of Our Friend Tate MacDowell

Tate MacDowell doing what he did best: creating action sports films that we came to know and love. TGR photo.

It is with heavy hearts that we say goodbye to our good friend Tate MacDowell, a visionary in the action sports media world and a bold character many here at TGR had the good luck to spend time with. Tate was diagnosed with colorectal cancer a few years ago and passed away peacefully this past Friday alongside his family. Dealing with cancer was a struggle he compared squarely to climbing a mountain, and was something he approached with the same head-on tenacity he did with everything else in life, whether it was skiing, surfing, filmmaking or most of all, being a father and husband. 

RELATED: Mountain In the Hallway - Tate MacDowell's Fight to the Top of the Grand Teton

Just a few weeks ago at TGR’s annual family dinner, we celebrated Tate’s accomplishments when he became the first non-athlete to be inducted to the TGR Hall of Fame. As a master cinematographer and editor, Tate cut seven feature-length TGR films, and was a major driving force behind TGR's early web series like This Show Socks, before continuing onto more action sports ventures like Roner Vision, Every Third Thursday, eight years of the XXL Big Wave Awards, Quiksilver Moments and numerous successful commercial projects under his production company Death Cookie Entertainment. Tate was also a talented artist, spending much of his time sketching and painting. He is survived by his wife Lora and their son Wilson.

In 2018, while in the hospital undergoing cancer treatment, Tate decided he wanted to climb the Grand Teton with his new friend Brian McDonnell, a fellow cancer patient. Their attempt to climb the famous peak, beat cancer, and send a hopeful message to those fighting it was documented in TGR’s film Mountain in the Hallway. The film is an incredibly intimate look at what it takes to conquer the unknown in an entirely new way.

The following are words from Tate’s friends and colleagues, as well as those who encountered him on his journey through life.

Tate always knew the put family and having a good time in life first. TGR photo.

Jack Shaw:

Jack Shaw is a friend of Tate and TGR that has spent many hours in the mountains and in the studio with the team. He was a TGR writer and producer from 2001-2006.

It was 2003, and things were ramping up at TGR - we were actually taking on “interns”. The infamous World Headquarters were 50 feet from the Jackson Hole tram dock, and upstairs from the crustiest ski bum bar in Teton Village. It was a tight brotherhood, a creative hotbed, and probably too much testosterone for anyone’s good. We spent a ton of time together - on the mountain, in the bar, on the road, and in tight, dark edit suites. Sarcasm was always on the menu. A thick skin was mandatory. So, when this 22-year-old punk from upstate NY showed up as an editorial intern, he got thrown right into the hot seat - driving the Space Shuttle, the editing command center.

The kid had an acerbic wit and irascible sense of humor that meshed perfectly with the rest of the crew. At first, it earned him the endearing nickname of “Irri-Tate”, but it was only the way we hung shit on each other. He was just better at it than the rest of us, and could take the piss out of anybody; the more ‘tude you had, the better foil you were for Tate. Half the time, you never even realized he was burning you - present company included. Soon enough, he became like a little brother to all of us.

I loved that he could hang with anyone, from the most jaded of locals, to the pros whose segment he was editing, to the kids looking for stickers or trying to peer in through the blinds of the room where Tate created his magic. And he treated them all the same - he was an emissary of stoke. He was able to jump right into one of North America’s toughest ski towns to make a name for yourself, and immediately made a difference. His pitch-perfect Warren Miller impersonations were the stuff of legends. The sock puppet mock-umentary “This Show Socks” poked fun at the seriousness and criticality we tried every day to convey - he was playing both sides of the fence, brilliantly.

And then he did the unthinkable, he left the nest, got married and hung his own shingle, started Death Cookie Entertainment and moved to Southern California with his wife to start his young family. His oeuvre continued to develop, his creativity now unhindered by the edit-by-committee pack mentality at TGR. He teamed up with athletes and projects that fueled his imagination, and always with that same hilarious aesthetic that never took the world of action sports too seriously. This was about having fun - I mean, we weren’t trying to discover a cure for cancer.

Until he was.

Inconceivable that a young man like Tate would be given the diagnosis that he got. Characteristically, he was certain that he would beat it. In a world of curated, look-at-me social media validation, he used his platform to inform, educate, and inspire us to live. He created a record for his family and friends about his fight for more time; but more so about the big bites that you could keep taking out of life, no matter the inevitability you are faced with. He bought a 1970’s camper van - not for the trendy vanlife, but to go to the beach every day with his family and friends and spend maximum quality time doing what they loved to do together. He traveled with his family, ticking off places to show his son. His chemo treatment found him staring at a photo of the Tetons in the doctor’s office, and he devised a goal to climb the Grand Teton to set his mind on a reason to survive, a way to endure the poison being pumped into him to combat his disease, and he met the challenge with warrior-like focus.

The Mountain in the Hallway project was such an incredible tribute to his spirit and touched so many. It makes you appreciate what you have, and never forget that no matter how fleeting health and life can be, you can (almost) always be in charge of your own happiness. That took next-level consciousness far beyond his years. The first attempt may have not resulted in a summit, but the achievement was far more substantial. The second attempt is as fairy-tale a feat as one could contrive.

From where I stand, he fought this fight as courageously as anyone I have seen go up against this fiercest of adversaries. Of course, it’s unfair. But he took it as a challenge and did it with panache. Despite the worst of odds, Tate continued to see life through the rosiest of goggle lenses - foremost for his family, but also to make the rest of us see that you have to keep living and doing it on your own terms, no matter what the prognosis.

Tate MacDowell leaves us with an unforgettable legacy - his artwork, his films and videos, his constant uplifting and inspirational photos and posts will live on, and continue to inspire us with the positivity that they were meant for.

He was a hell of a guy, and a real piece of work. I’ll miss him more than I ever imagined.

Todd Jones and Tate hanging at TGR HQ. TGR photo.

Todd Jones:

Todd Jones is the co-founder of TGR, and is who Tate affectionately called "my boss."

The year was 2003. TGR was in our old office in Teton Village at the base of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. I was editing the TGR films a few years prior, recently joined by Sasha Motivala as the interim lead editor. The edit zone was called the Jewelry shop, having been a Jewelry store prior to us storming the building a few years earlier and setting up shop. Any content that came out of it was considered to be part of the Jewelry Shop Files. It was a small, hot, fake-log-lined room with one edit bay that we basically lived, ate, slept and partied in. It was the heart and soul of TGR World Headquarters, the place you wanted to be, the place where the magic was happening.

I remember one day there was a knock on the door and standing there were this skinny kid from upstate New York, fresh out of college. Next to him was his Dad. We had never had the parental handoff before, nor were we remotely in a phase of life to be the ones to receive the hand off. Most people would have probably thought that was lame and uncool to have your Dad drop you off at your first internship, but not Tate and nor myself. I knew immediately that Tate would become part of the TGR family, as would his parents and brother. That was the first time I experienced Tate’s core values in life. He valued family and friends and didn’t really give a fuck how other people would judge him.

The Jewelry Shop. Left to right: Stephen Scherbas, Sam Petri, Josh Nielsen, Dave Hudacsko, Steve Jones, Tate MacDowell. TGR photo.

By 2004, Tate had assumed the role of lead editor of the TGR baby, the annual film. That meant he would be dealing with me, Steve, Josh and JK as his bosses and the directors of the film. The process was very loose and unstructured. The script was virtually non-existent. It was a bit of the Wild West of filmmaking. People would battle hard for their creativity to come out in the film and it wasn’t always pretty. We were like five brothers in a boxing ring duking it out and the young Tate was not going to take it from anyone, not even his bosses. He was passionate about his craft and he was really really good at it. Tate fought hard for his ideas and began creating absolute magic. Never in our history had we had an intern become the lead editor in one year’s time, but Tate was that brilliant, genius and simply that good. He maintained that role for seven years and cut seven annual films and countless other legendary TGR properties.

It was tough when Tate resigned and decided to do his own thing. At that time, for all of us, it was like getting divorced. We weren’t co-workers, we were brothers and part of the heart and soul of TGR. When you spend nearly every day and night together for seven years, putting your life into your art, it is just tough to adjust to a different friendship, but I was happy for Tate. He wanted to go take on the world, make his art on his own terms, and expand his horizons. He went on to do just that. He created so many epic, witty, funny, industry-leading projects in the years to follow.

After a few years of not seeing each other, we finally reconnected and started hanging out again on a surf trip I had taken to Encinitas. It was so rad. He took me into the lineup, got me into waves, showed me around his new home. We ate tacos, lobsters, told stories and picked up where we left off. It was so great to have Tate back in my life. He showed me fresh edits of Roner Vision that had been unseen by the world. They were brilliant and wild and irreverent. He had just had Wilson and he and Lora were on fire.

Then the news hit. Tate was diagnosed with Colon Cancer. Another close friend who lived just down the road from me in the Tetons, Brian MacDonald, was diagnosed with the same cancer within a week’s time. Tate was in his late 30’s, Brian his late 40’s. It seemed unfair and way too early for this to happen. For a lot of us it was the first time we had dealt with cancer amongst our peers and people our age.

Well, Tate being the artist he is, suggested we make a film about their journey and his desire to climb the Grand Teton. The film was inspired by a giant picture of the Grand Teton in the hospital in Southern California, where he did his Chemo. He named the film the Mountain in the Hallway. It started out as a high-five film. The boys would go through stage 2 treatment, climb the Grand, throw a high five on the summit and carry on with life with cancer in the rear-view mirror. I was going to be the director and Tate and Brian the stars. We had an awesome script and were going to make a cool film raising awareness for Colon Cancer.

Our movie plans got royally fucked. We didn’t realize it at the time, but Cancer was the real director of the film. Tate eventually climbed the Grand in heroic fashion in between Chemo doses with an eye patch on because he was losing his vision from a new tumor in his brain. He stayed with the film, even as he was staring death in the face, because he wanted to tell his story to the world and make a difference.

The last time I saw Tate was in Jackson Hole in early March. We stood in the parking lot of TGR as winter’s snow melted away and created total mayhem for everyone trying to leave the office parking lot. We sat there and laughed, heckled, play-by-play commented as cars tried to get out to the main road. His arm was not working anymore because of a tumor blockage. He could no longer surf. He had just had his last ski run. He was frail and said he was tired, but he still had his wits and love and beauty to him. He had a wiser perspective than I have ever experienced first hand. He told me about his son Wilson and picking him up from ski school. He said the instructor was telling him about Wilson’s turn and his balance and all these technical details. He told me he did not care about any of that shit. He said he interrupted the guys and asked, “Was he nice, was he fun to be with, did you have a good time?”

It was such a simple moment, but I felt like Tate was in a higher state of being and I know those who spent time with him over the last few months feel the same.

If someone ever asked that same question about you to me, I would say, “He was the funnest, he was an incredible friend and we had the best of times with him.”

Tate, thank you for everything you brought to this world. You taught us all how to live life and treat each other. I will miss you dearly. Say high to Roner for me and I can’t wait to give you guys notes on whatever the hell your next project is!! 

Sage Cattabriga-Alosa

Pro skier Sage Cattabriga-Alosa spent years with Tate both in the field and in the editing bay, he remembers some fond moments helping Tate create This Show Socks.

It was with Tate that I first spent late nights in the edit bay at TGR. We were both young and fresh, eyes wide, and full of excitement. Tate's sarcastic sense of humor led us to create the parody puppet show coined This Show Socks. I’ll never forget sitting half prone on the floor with one hand raised next to Tate in our makeshift studio which was just a cardboard box covered in fabric. We then, with a loose script, talked smack over the top of previous TGR segments in the style of MST3k. It may not have been our best work, but damn was it some of the most fun, and the funniest. At least to us!

Jill Garreffi:

Jill Garreffi is a cinematographer and the lead editor at TGR, and learned many of her skills over the years personally from Tate.

Many moons ago I watched the movie Anomaly and after that decided I wanted to work with the cannonballs I saw in the credits. A couple years later I showed up to as an intern and I met Tate. Tate was not only the lead editor and one of the masterminds behind Anomaly, but also a lead cannonball. He had an uncanny spark for being mischievous and hilarious to work with, and the editing bay was his evil genius laboratory. His ability to pull off outside-of-the-box concepts was impeccable, This Show Socks and the game over teaser for Anomaly were some of my favorites, but the list is long. While we only worked together for a few months, I came to know him as a genuinely kindhearted person. He was extremely supportive and such a great teacher, and I will always be thankful for that.

Tate’s personality and work ethic shown through in everything he did, a couple years ago I had the honor of editing Erik Roner’s tribute segment. I watched countless hours of footage from way back in the day and found a tape that Tate had shot in Jackson. It was pure gold. I found myself laughing for the better part of an hour, which was a stark contrast to previously crying onto my keyboard. Watching the world through Tate’s eyes is something special; everything is just more fun. Tate, thanks for spreading joy, making us laugh, and for inspiring so many of us to take chances and to be bold in this world. 

Capturing footage in the field was only one of the many things Tate excelled at in life. TGR photo.

Josh Nielsen:

Josh Nielsen worked with Tate both in the field and behind the scenes as TGR's director of production from 2004-2010.

I had the honor of working closely with Tate as his production partner from 2003 to 2008. We both joined TGR at the same time — totally green, straight of school, obsessed with ski culture and ski films. With the somewhat blind trust of the Jones brothers we dove headfirst into annual ski films starting with Highlife and ending with our last TGR collaboration, Under the Influence.

During that time, what immediately stood out to me was the unique way Tate viewed the world; he had a one-of-a-kind vision. To this day, I have yet to meet anyone with such heightened personality, creativity, talent and wit. Also, at times, a sarcastic pain in the ass.

Looking back, I would honestly say some of Tate’s best work never saw the light of day because the ideas were too out there, too strange, too radical, but his process was amazing to be a part of. Tate pushed boundaries and was never afraid of the tough topics or hard conversations. There was always a lot of truth in what he brought to his craft.

Film is a powerful form for storytelling. It connects people, celebrates culture, moves ideas, motivates and makes people feel profoundly. As filmmakers, there is a responsibility that comes with that power, and a need to respect the craft. As skiers, there is an obligation to keep the culture going, to honor and pass down the traditions and stories to the next generation. Tate valued both of these things deeply.

In this moment, we’ve lost a great talent, a great storyteller and a truly unique human. However, he lives on through his films, his family, and his countless contributions to the ski and film communities.

Tate getting a bit of rest during a busy day shooting in the field back in the day. TGR photo.

Alex Yoder:

Alex Yoder is a professional snowboarder who lives in Jackson Hole and forged an early connection with Tate.

I had a thought about him out of the blue a couple of weeks ago - I don’t know why, but it made me think his time may be coming soon. I remember him from when I was in high school - we had a “schools to careers” internship day - a friend and I asked to go to TGR to learn about filmmaking. I don’t remember the guy who told us to sort through and organize a room full of Freeskier and Powder mags, but I do remember Tate finding us there and asking us what the hell we were doing, then asking if we wanted to shoot some 16mm film.

He was so psyched to share what he knew with us and offer a couple of kids a new experience. The footage we shot outside the old VC ended up in the credits of whichever film he had edited that year. Seeing the shot that I had shot on the big screen blew my 15-year-old mind, and thinking back, I wonder if he secretly threw that in there intentionally to motivate us. Intentional or not it worked.

I never got to know him well, but I always appreciated how he could simultaneously be the most genuine and most sarcastic guy. I really admire how he chose to live with passion and ambition while his body was in the trenches. He was a great man.

David Hudacsko:

David Hudacsko was a man of many talents at TGR - splitting time, starting in 2002, between roles as Shipping Manager, East Coast film tour manager, Tour Director, Sponsorship director, and the occasional time in the field on production shoots. Across all these roles, he got to know the man that was Tate.

From the beginning it was Hot Tate comin’ in hot – fast and witty comebacks in the office. His style quickly made an impression across to the JK/Chad/BScott/Hudie/Dax era for sure. I remember a few of the boys kind of saying "who’s this guy?" Classic Tate. “hate, hate, hate” But maybe it was the mega gainer that he threw off the jump tree when floating the (snake) canyon that got him a little credit. I remember JK making a facial expression of “Okay, well alright then” At the same time, Todd and Steve seemed completely amused by Tate’s antics and saw his style and skill as well.

I kind of just like that, he started out by sleeping on Josh’s floor on Gregory lane (or was Josh sleeping on his floor?), to sleeping in the window bed of my and Tyler Jackson’s place in the Aspens for the first year and a half of living in JH. To having three athletes of the year sleep on our floor in the couch couloir. I believe Ian made a comfy bed the year of the 3-times the lady (by the way I was on your side and still think that “Out of the Silent Planet” would have been an epic song for your seg).

First Edit - One of my favorite memories was the stoke he had when (I believe Todd or JK) gave him the nod to edit the JH segment to punk. He managed to put JK’s smart bastard backflip right on the beat, it was perfect. He was over-stoked. Flying through the office, staying late to be a part of the editing session and get his turn on the computer. He was flying that first touch on the movie.

I loved the look on his burnt out face in late August looking potato-white since he had been hidden from the sun for most of the summer. Then when everyone was bickering just enough about music, direction, flow, athletes want this shot, etc. Suddenly Todd would put a patch on your arm and it was time for a soul cleansing Natty Bath! Which was get out of the office, into the rigs, head to the Wilson bridge, walk north on the dike, put your flip flops on your hands.... jump in and float down with toes toward the Grand. 10 minutes in that river and it was full renewal.

Some of the best was taking him skiing in the backcountry - it didn’t matter if it was his first trip to Four Pines, into Granite, his first boot up Cody or ski through Breakneck. I can hear in his slightly sarcastic & skeptical way kind of snarling his lip and saying “Do we really want to do this? Why do we want to do this? I want to do this, but is it really worth it? I don’t really want to but fine otherwise you won’t stop bothering me.”

Or the antics:

This Show Socks

Bombing the roof of the office with fireworks for morning Avy patrol (didn’t work)

gaper day where we dressed up in Hamby’s Hockey gear, put on short skis and beat the crap out of each other down Thunder bumps cause it was a good idea

A-rock (Arik) and the wet socks (later on we toilet-papered Arock’s office on the night before Halloween). Tate kind of had it out for him.

Locking Hansen in the bathroom by crossing up Steve’s old 217 rossi’s across the door.

Plenty more, just kind of throwing a few out there, hopefully stirring a few other people’s memories.

Tate’s Words:

Tate MacDowell wrote the following poem as a reflection on his life in 2018. It served as inspiration for TGR’s film Mountain in the Hallway.

MOUNTAIN IN THE HALLWAY

A walk within fluorescent caves
All alone, scared but brave
At the end a mountain hung
Reluctant Journey just begun
As I walked
a man would follow
All in black
His hood was hollow
I lost him once
But it was felt
To stop the man
I hurt myself
The path I took
I can’t recall
Focus set
beyond the Hall
Nowhere to run
I tried to flee
To poison him
I poisoned me
Locked and loaded
with no guns
I shot the man
With many suns
Finally I reached the wall
The mountain and I standing tall
I could touch it, feel it, see
Through the mount, reflected me
From his hood
These words did spout
“What truth be found
atop this route?”
To which I smiled
Though I hadn’t yet done it,
Turned and said
“I am the summit”

Tate MacDowell on top of the Grand Teton. TGR photo.

Beautiful words for a beautiful soul.  I was 2003-2007, I wasn’t the cool kid, I was the money guy.  The suit.  Tate more than anyone else accepted me.  I miss those days, I miss Tate.  Thank you for your friendship.

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