Champion Of Quiet Winter Sport Dies -- Gene Prater Wrote Snowshoeing Bible

The man affectionately known as "Mr. Snowshoe" is dead.

A memorial service is today in Ellensburg for Gene Prater, a pioneering mountain climber and one of the nation's foremost promoters of showshoeing.

Prater died Tuesday at the University of Washington Medical Center after a short illness. He was 64.

Known most widely for his books, "Snowshoeing" and "Snow Trails," the Ellensburg farmer will be remembered for exploring new routes up Mount Rainier and other peaks over four decades of mountain climbing. "Snowshoeing," in its third edition, has been described as the bible of Northwest winter travel.

A muscular but modest man, he designed and built several lines of snowshoes, and taught snowshoeing in the Cascades and the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

Active until the day he died, "Gene was still climbing and still leading," said fellow climber Dave Mahre. "People looked up to him to be out front."

Mahre and Prater, who climbed many peaks together, in the mid-1950s became only the second party to ascend Liberty Ridge on Mount Rainier.

In the 1980s the two celebrated the 80th birthday of Louie Ulrich, who in the 1920s pioneered a new route up Mount Stuart, near Leavenworth, by taking him on a climb.

Prater, recognizing that many early climbers' accomplishments were never recorded, was careful not to claim any firsts, Mahre recalled.

And he chose to stay closer to home than better-known climbers. "He felt he had a mission to stay home and take care of the farm and raise his children.

The climbing bit became an avocation," said Bob Monahan, who snowshoed with Prater.

A religious man, he grew hay and wheat and sometimes raised cattle on the 500-acre farm that his ancestors settled a century earlier.

"He was always going out into the mountains teaching people to enjoy the mountains," said Donna DeShazo, director of The Mountaineer Books, which published his books. When Prater went snowshoeing with Mountaineers staffers half his age "he left them in the dust," said DeShazo. Prater was especially fond of snowshoeing because of the solitude and the spectacular scenery it offered.

Prater had a theory on why snowshoeing hadn't exploded like other winter sports: You have to walk up and you have to walk down. "There are no free rides" in snowshoeing, Prater once told a reporter. "It's easier to sell something when you're convinced that you get half the trip for nothing."

He was a member of the Sherpas Cascadia Club, Seattle Mountaineers, Mountain Search and Rescue, and the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Prater and Yvonne, his wife of 37 years, raised four children. They were divorced in 1990, and he remarried in 1992.

He is survived by his wife, Jeri; a son Eric, of Ellensburg; a daughter Connie Rollman, of Denver; a brother William, of Twin Falls, Idaho; and two sisters, Marjorie Williams, of Seattle, and Myrna Halversen, of Bellevue.

The memorial service is scheduled for 2 p.m. today at the Christian Missionary Alliance in Ellensburg. The family suggests memorials to the Muscular Dystrophy Association, American Cancer Society or another charity.