Outside Business Journal

Backcountry Co-founder John Bresee Dies at 53

The man behind the thriving online outdoor retailer lived a life as adventurous as his customers combined

Mady Koller

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Many knew John Bresee as one of Backcountry’s founders, but many more knew him as a man who loved living on the edge. A strong intellect and wit drove him to constantly be seeking the extraordinary, and ultimately led him to his exceptionally successful life.

He spent June 28, the day before he died in his sleep, on a 180-mile motocross trip across the Utah desert—an adventure in line with his character. “While I will greatly miss my friend, with whom I shared many profound life experiences, I take some comfort in knowing that his final day was one steeped in adventure,” said friend and co-founder of Backcountry, Jim Holland.

Bresee was always looking to innovate and create. Throughout his life he wore many hats: editor of Powder Magazine, stock trader, entrepreneur, skier, friend, and more. While paying his dues for a pass to Snowbird as a dishwasher, he and a few friends started a free ski-bum magazine for the surrounding area. It wasn’t long after that Bresee began to discover his real passion for avalanche gear, and Backcountry was born in 1996.

From its humble beginnings in a Park City garage—a Pieps 457 Opti-finder avalanche beacon was its first sale—to the booming online retailer known today for its wide array of outdoor clothing and gear, Bresee’s intrepid spirit will forever be a part of Backcountry.

John Bresee and Jim Holland, founders of Backcountry, in a field
John Bresee (left) with Jim Holland. Backcountry brought together his two primary loves-skiing and technology. (Photo: Courtesy)

“Backcountry would not be Backcountry without John,” Holland told Outside Business Journal. “The original idea for what ultimately grew to become Backcountry was his. John fostered innovation and encouraged everyone to break trail, experiment, and explore the bounds of what was possible. He used to quote Seth Godin in saying, ‘The safe way is the risky way and the risky way is the safe way.’ He warned of the dangers of hubris. In other words, John understood the importance of innovation and that big, bureaucratic, slow-moving organizations that think they are invincible ultimately grow stale and fail. It’s the scrappy, entrepreneurial, agile organizations that aren’t afraid to step out on the edge that ultimately set new standards and really knock customers’ socks off. John’s fingerprints are interwoven in the fabric of Backcountry and his legacy lives on.”

Bresee was generous with his success and always freely gave to those around him, often lending support for the endeavors of those he believed in. He was a devoted father, and often said that his two children Thomas Pendleton “Penn” Bresee and Lucy Lhotse Alair Sachs were his proudest accomplishments, according to his obituary.

Friends and family celebrated Bresee at a celebration of his life on Saturday.

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