I heard the tragic news that one of the UK's most respected and loved snowboarders, Nelson Pratt, had passed away last Friday but have only just had the opportunity to try to articulate my feelings. To be honest, I'm still in shock and find it hard to comprehend how one of the nicest, friendliest, most good-natured people I've had the pleasure of meeting is no longer with us. We have lost a true gent.
Over this past weekend he's been in my mind constantly. An endlessly repeating loop of memories and thoughts of a man who I respected and admired. The tributes to Nelson have been both tearjerking and uplifting and I hope you don't mind me adding my own here.
I first met Nelly in 1999 in Les 2 Alpes at the Kommunity camp and Nelson was one of the first people I talked to the first night, leaving an immediate impression on me as one of life's genuine good guys. I remember being sat at the drop-in to one of the kickers the next day working myself up to hitting it for the first time when I saw Nelson beside me. "What do you think I should try?" he asked. "Do a backside rodeo, man," I replied in jest. "Oh, ok." And he did. I remember being blown away at that - these were the days that being able to chuck a backside rodeo was rare in UK snowboarding - but that was just classic Nelly. Contrary to some who'd leave you under no doubt that they were talented riders, he was just the opposite.
Despite his modesty, his riding started gaining the respect it deserved, attracting the support of sponsors like K2 and Helly Hansen, and for a several years he was undisputedly one of the finest kicker riders Britain had produced. Yet never once did it change him; he was always the same humble, friendly, polite, interested, shy, funny chap that I first met in 2 Alpes all those years ago. His love of snowboarding and the people associated with it was perhaps only matched by his love of the land - he grew up on a farm in Hampshire - and when it came time to spend more time on his family's farm he still managed to keep involved with snowboarding by coaching both the Army and the GB teams, which is something he clearly relished.
I remember other times I was lucky enough to share with him. A week stranded in Tignes where he took me in and we survived on tinned fish; speed runs with JP Challinor and Marcus Chapman slashing skiers; chugging across Europe in his infamous Land Rover; his avoidance of McDonald's; digging on Ween in his tiny apartment he shared with Marcus while watching TB10 for the hundredth time; days on the mountain; nights in the bar, but most of all when I close my eyes I remember the warmth of his personality and the smile that rarely left his lips.
Many others knew him far better than I. Though this news has rocked me it will be even harder for his close friends and, above all, hardest for his family. When a life like this is cut so tragically short it's impossible to feel anything but deep sorrow at the void that is left, yet the outpouring of love, from those who barely knew Nelson to those who knew him like a brother, is a testament to how highly he was thought of – as a snowboarder, a coach, a friend and, most importantly, as a human being – and that is the candle which illuminates this darkest of hours. His time on earth touched so many and I feel fortunate to have been one of them.
Rest In Peace, Nelson.
If anyone has stories or photos to share of our friend Nelson, and we're sure there are many, please head to the Nelson Pratt blog to do so.