Patrick J. Cunningham
Oct. 19, 1939 – July 13, 21
NORTH CREEK – Patrick J. Cunningham, white water rafting pioneer, ski shop operator, hunter, fisherman, gardener and all around character, died July 13, 2021 in North Creek, NY, his lifelong home. Pat suffered from Parkinson’s disease and died peacefully in his sleep at Elderwood. He was 81.
A fifth generation Adirondacker, Patrick Cunningham was born on October 19, 1939 to Margaret Collins Cunningham and H. Butler Cunningham. His parents operated the J.E. Cunningham General Store and his father was instrumental in bringing skiing to North Creek, serving as president of the Gore Mountain Ski Lift Corporation. Pat Cunningham graduated from Johnsburg Central School and earned a BS in Civil Engineering from Norwich University.
As a teenager, Pat was an outstanding ski racer and earned a place at the 1957 Junior Nationals at Mount Rose in Nevada. The town raised funds to support his first ever trip out of state and hung a “Good Luck Pat” banner outside school. He made the junior national team and went on to race for Norwich University and the U.S. Army Ski Team in Berchtesgaden, Germany, where he served as a First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Pat said he had the best job in the US Army – they gave him a Volkswagen and he drove all over Europe going to ski races including the Hahnenkamm in Kitzbuhel and the Lauberhorn in Wengen. In 1962, Pat was one of the top 20 US skiers and tried out for the 1964 Winter Olympics but broke his elbow before the trials and had to withdraw. After three years in Germany, Pat traveled. “He went around the world alone and with very little money,” recalled his sister Mary. “In the early 60s, being from a small upstate town, this took a great deal of ambition, courage and strength.”
Pat took over Cunningham’s Ski Shop, one of the oldest ski shops in the country, from his parents. He transformed an old cattle and chicken barn into Cunningham’s Ski Barn eventually expanding the business to eight ski shops at its peak. Pat did all of the buying and selling of ski merchandise, set bindings, tuned skis, and cut cross country trails. He supported tens of thousands of skiers over 65 years.
In the offseason, Pat worked for Torrington Construction as an engineer for ten years and built roads in the North Country. In 1978, he went rafting down the Hudson River with a few friends and had a brainstorm. The upstate white water rafting industry was born. Pat operated Hudson River Rafting Company for 35 years rafting thousands of people on the Hudson, Sacandaga, Black and Moose Rivers and Ausable Chasm. He employed hundreds of people including several who went on to operate their own rafting businesses today.
He served on the Town of Johnsburg Planning Board, Gore Mountain Region Chamber of Commerce and the Lake George Chamber of Commerce.
Pat Cunningham married Deborah Hosley Cunningham in 1982 on Rock Island in Blue Mountain Lake. A native of Arizona, an Italian friend of the extended family brought Deb to North Creek. They enjoyed horseback rides and happiness for over 40 years. His first marriage, to Mary Lynne Heldmann, ended in divorce but they remained friends.
Pat leaves behind five children: Patrick J. Cunningham (Laura) and David J. Cunningham, (Susan) of Queensbury, Mark J. Cunningham (Shannon) of Greenwich, CT, Tyler D. Cunningham of Lake Placid, and Meredith D. Cunningham of North Creek; eight grandchildren: (Elle, Colin, Mara, Aiden, Zachery, Declan, Teagen and Dylan); siblings: Richard B. Cunningham of Troy, Mary C. Moro and Thomas J. Cunningham, of North Creek. He was predeceased by brother James Cunningham.
Pat was a gatherer and a griller. Friends and relatives recall pig roasts over his old bus engine, dinners at Christmas time with venison stew after a day of skiing at Gore, animated discussions of a 12-point buck over a hunter’s cocktail (or two) each November and bonfires after spring rafting. He loved to serve up Pimm’s Cup in special glasses for the Kentucky Derby, race boats on Blue Mountain Lake, grill lobsters for his employees in Beaver Meadows during peak foliage, and sponsor ski-joring races for local kids on the trails behind the Ski Barn. Many summer gatherings were held on the porch of the Blue Mountain Lake Inn (belly dancers welcome), which he ran for over 40 years. Pat touched us all.
The life of Patrick J. Cunningham will be celebrated on Saturday, July 24 at Cunningham’s Ski Barn at 3268 State Route 28, North Creek beginning at 10:30 am with a memorial service at 11:00 a.m. and a barbeque and stories to follow. All who knew and loved Pat are welcome.
The family wishes to thank Elderwood at North Creek for exceptional care and family relations. In lieu of flowers, the family requests those who wish to express sympathy consider making a donation to the North Country Ministry, In memory of Patrick J. Cunningham, P.O. Box 478, Warrensburg, NY 12885. Friends are encouraged to submit stories of Pat in writing for a memory book to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please visit www.alexanderfh.net for online guest book and condolences.