Remembering Peter Noone

Vincent Stanley  /  4 Min Read  /  Culture

Peter Kinnoch Noone, who embodied the down-to-earth style of the outdoor industry’s early days and helped shaped the development of the outdoor store as a commercial force, customer refuge and sentinel for the protection of wilderness, died at his home in Ojai, California, on July 9 of recurrent cancer. He was 75 years old.

Peter was a student at the University of Utah and an avid rock climber, fly fisherman and downhill and cross-country skier when he took a summer job working for George Rudolf at The Ski Hut in Berkeley in 1964. Rudolf, the first U. S. importer of European ski and climbing gear, was one of the few outdoor industry pioneers possessed of strong business skills. His three companies (The Ski Hut, Trailwise, Donner Mountain Corporation) were noted for their high-quality gear and impeccable customer service.

For decades, The Ski Hut served as an unofficial gathering spot for the Bay Area’s seminal climbing and environmental communities. Rudolf’s employees seeded the industry, going on to lead The North Face or start Sierra Designs, Walrus Tents, Class 5 and Snow Lion, among others. Of those Rudolf trained, Peter Noone was the one too valuable to let go; he rose quickly and served as general manager of The Ski Hut’s catalog and retail divisions until the business was sold at the end of 1982.

In The Ski Hut, Peter with his lifelong friend Kate Larramendy, created the model for the modern outdoor specialty shop. They expanded the store’s offerings from hard goods and classic heavy woolen clothing to more unexpected items like snowshoe chairs, alpaca ponchos, Icelandic sweaters and colorful rugged sportswear. Their clean aesthetic and attention to detail served as a model for outdoor stores then emerging from the early days of bare floors, rope reels and the smell of pine tar. The Ski Hut was also Yvon’s favorite shop and when Peter and Kate left, he hired them both. Kate, as design director, introduced bold color to the Patagonia line and the outdoor industry as a whole. Peter’s mission was to borrow from The Ski Hut template to create a retail presence for the company and strengthen its catalog business.

We weren’t sure whether Peter would take to Ventura but as it turned out he happily traded in his cashmere sweaters and sockless loafers for polos and year-round flip flops. He worked for Patagonia for 35 years in various executive roles and as a consultant until, and through, his last illness. He had the nose to scope out the perfect spot for each new retail store and the chops to negotiate a long-term contract, one fair to both the landlord and the company. He worked to make each store a “gift to the street” and a refuge for the local environmental community. He set the company’s high standard for retail hiring and customer service. More informally, Peter served as trusted advisor to Malinda Chouinard, Kris Tompkins and Rose Marcario.

My own time with Peter goes back 45 years, when he was still running The Ski Hut and I was a barely fledged customer service rep/sales manager for Chouinard Equipment. He would call to ask where his order was and I would tell him the usual bad news. He would dress me down in the gentlest way, and I would go out to the bins to scrounge what consolation I could for our best customer. During a hiatus from Patagonia, I went to work for him at The Ski Hut, managing its catalog, then worked again beside him in the management “corral” on the second floor of the Lost Arrow Building during the 1980s and early ’90s. The retail philosophy expressed in Let My People Go Surfing is mostly pure Peter, what we all learned from him. Yvon, Malinda, Kris and I weren’t the only ones. He was a terrific teacher. Of the memories posted on the employee Facebook page, most have to do with his sage counsel, the rest with his kindness.

Peter’s gruff exterior—most of his overtures to conversation began with a complaint—belied an uncompromising sense of honor, a sharp sense of justice, respect for the dignity of others, a readily helping hand to those in need of one, and a desert-dry sense of humor. He was enthralled by the natural history of the places he loved: the Sierra, southern Utah along Route 12, and Silver Creek near Sun Valley. Birding and fly fishing remained  lifelong avocations. He spent his later summers in a perfectly appointed, specially tricked out Airstream at Riverside Camp, slot 2a, within earshot of Henry’s Fork.

Peter is survived by his son Peter Noone, Jr., granddaughters Halina and Julia Noone, all of Palo Alto, his brother Barton Noone of La Jolla and sister Nancy Noone Hoffacker of Portola Valley, to whom he was exceptionally close, and Kate Larramendy of Ventura.

A celebration of his life will be held in the fall. Donations in Peter Noone’s memory may be made to:

Henry’s Fork Foundation

Nature Conservancy Silver Creek Preserve

Ojai Raptor Center

Ojai Valley Land Conservancy

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