Introducing Alpinist Thaddeus Cooke

Introducing Alpinist Thaddeus Cooke

Tad Cooke was a junior at The University of Vermont when the idea to rehabilitate a derelict coal plant on the shores of Lake Champlain, backed by the Adirondacks, popped into his mind. He and his roommate Erick Crockenberg tried to think of any reason why they shouldn't look into the matter. A few weeks later, and they had emailed the Mayor, asking for the blueprints of the existing structure...

Fast forward a few years, and Erick and Tad are graduating. They've re-conceived the building, called the Moran Plant, as a community space. It's energy net-zero, and it features a performing arts venue, a restaurant, community gardens, and a brewery. Tad and Erick's plan has been endorsed by the Mayor, and the city is voting on whether or not to approve the project for 6.3 Million in tax-increment financing. It passes...New Moran is happening. 

You'd think amid all this, that Tad might have turned into the kind of person who spends most of his time meeting with architects, or taking fundraising meetings. Yes, he does those things, but he also makes time to flyfish, ski the backcountry, and photograph all around his home state on adventures with friends. If you could go back to your mid 20's, you might wish that you had had it all as figured out as Tad appears to. We caught up with him this week to learn more about his passion for the mountains.  

Alps & Meters: Who are you and what do you do? 

Tad Cooke: My name is Tad Cooke, I'm a 9th generation Vermonter and I co-lead the redevelopment of an abandoned coal plant on the waterfront in Burlington, Vermont

Alps & Meters: What is it about Moran that originally appealed to you? Why this project? 

TC: At first it was shameless curiosity- curiosity about an abandoned building, about why the building had been abandoned, and about what it could be. It was the 4th of July, and between three of my best friends, we were looking down at the building from the hillside Battery Park in Burlington. There were gin & tonics involved and someone said, "How hard can it be?". 

Three years later, it's about creating the best possible lemonade from something a lot of people have considered a bag of very sour lemons. Burlington has a tremendous waterfront, and the Moran Plant is a 65,000 square foot, 90 foot tall derelict former coal plant right in the middle of the northern shoreline- the last keystone in an otherwise world-class public space. If we're successful in rallying the community around reinventing Moran, we'll create a new cultural landmark, the largest redeveloped net-zero building in the world, and a vibrant combination of community and commerce that everyone involved can be proud of. 

The Historic Moran Plant, Built in 1952

The Historic Moran Plant, Built in 1952

 Plans for the New Moran include an indoor farmer's market, co-working space, brewery, and more..

 Plans for the New Moran include an indoor farmer's market, co-working space, brewery, and more..

Alps & Meters: What does a typical day in your life look like? Your ideal day? 

TC: A typical day involves a quart of coffee (the local roaster Brio Coffee Works is a house favorite), appeasing five opinionated urban chickens, biking to a team meeting at our studio in Burlington's South End arts district, a few calls, a meeting or two with more coffee, and too much time at the computer. 

A good day tosses in a trip to the local YMCA, some time on the waterfront (swimming, biking, or both) and enough spare time to keep the garden going, make a fresh dinner, or catch up with friends at the mostly-old-guys-with-sad-faces watering hole. 

All that said, my ideal day starts well before sunrise, with a friend or small crew, fishing, paddling, or skiing. By 8 or 9 am, I'm back in Burlington with just enough time to change, grab some snacks, and get to the first meeting of the day. If it's summertime, I can stop south of Burlington in Vergennes for the best baked goods and coffee you've ever had, but in the winter, there's no breakfast in the state that compares to a third, fourth or fifth powder lap in the backcountry. 

Tad snapped this photo at the Lake Mansfield Trout Club in Stowe, VT

Tad snapped this photo at the Lake Mansfield Trout Club in Stowe, VT

Alps & Meters: Who or what inspires you? 

TC: I can humbly say I have the privilege of working with inspiring people every day; it's one of the reasons I believe so strongly in Moran, in Burlington, and in Vermont. I'm always particularly inspired by the quiet leaders, the people who make connections, invite collaboration and creatively pool resources in favor of some shared common good. I think the more you get involved in a community, the more you uncover these small connecting threads. Follow those threads back, and there are a few people working selflessly to make good things happen. 

Alps & Meters: Fondest memory of time well spent in the mountains? 

TC: My first serious western backcountry trip was in Rogers Pass, just east of Revelstoke, British Columbia. We ended up at the top of a long valley with a panoramic view after a half day of hiking; somewhere through my second PB&J I realized it was completely silent outside of my chewing. I set my skis next to each other and spent a few minutes laying down on them, surrounded on all sides by the mountains, a bluebird sky and utter quiet. I get fired up just thinking about it. 

Hiking for turns in the Tordrillo Range, AK

Hiking for turns in the Tordrillo Range, AK

But seriously, what time isn't well spent in the mountains? Whether it's a turn, a run, or a half second when the sun hits your face over a ridge, that moment is perfect in itself. 

Alps & Meters: Tell us more about your AK trip last winter! Looked incredible...

TC: Hah, yeah. It was the perfect confluence of people, timing and dumb luck. My childhood buddy Caleb had an offer from his college roommate's dad to fly a crew out for glacier skiing outside of Anchorage. Needless to say, my Moran co-founder Erick and I jumped at the chance. We roped in our friend Katy, bid bittersweet farewells to our ski videographer roommate (who also happens to be Katy's boyfriend) and took off for most of two weeks. 

After a 1 am arrival in Anchorage, we crashed with another college friend of Caleb's, woke up for sunrise and set out for a few hot laps of Anchorage to find fuel, air canisters, CO2, bacon, kielbasa, frozen vegetables, hot sauce, a sat phone, and equally exciting/disturbing quantities of boxed wine and nutella. 

The deHavilland Beaver is a 6 passenger plane produced from 1947-1967 and it's one of the most beautiful machines I have ever seen. We had the deeply satisfying experience of filling it to the gills with our supplies, our gear and ourselves. After some mild concern, I sequestered the last piece of luggage (a large bottle of whiskey) in my chest pocket and we took off. 

 
 

The next eight days brought the full spectrum of Alaska glacier skiing. Bluebird arrival, two days of steady but skiable storm conditions, two days of absolute inside-of-a-pingpong-ball whiteout, and finally three days of drop-dead bluebird skies with 46" of fresh, cold, consolidated Alaskan powder

Tad (left) and crew

Tad (left) and crew

Tordrillo Range, AK

Tordrillo Range, AK

I read seven books, ate five pounds of trail mix solo, played cards for a record nine hours, hiked over 15,000 vertical feet, shot four rolls of film, shared myself, and skied the best steep skiing of my life. I'm already planning next year's trip. 

Steep and deep in the Tordrillo Range, AK

Steep and deep in the Tordrillo Range, AK

Alps & Meters: Where and how did you learn to ski?

TC: Smuggler's Notch and Mad River Glen, starting at age two. When it was really cold my dad would bribe me with a half stick of Dentyne cinnamon gum. It worked every time, and I did a lot of pizza/french fry down icy mogul trails. 

My dad also introduced me to the backcountry in middle school via 190 cm tele skis with three pin binding and leather boots. I skidded around a lot on those straight skis before figuring it out, but fell in love with the process. 

 Alps & Meters: How would you describe your personal style? 

TC: I like simple, durable things and I look for gear that's equally capable on the mountain, on a fundraising visit or in my wood shop. 

Alps & Meters: At Alps & Meters, we have a philosophy of #designedbytradition, creating timeless and classic pieces that both remember and respect the traditions of our sport, while elevating the product with contemporary technologies for gear that wears beautifully and lasts quite some time. We'd hate for folks to forget the rich history of alpine sport, and that goes for the outerwear that has come and gone before us as well.

We see you doing very admirable preservation work with Moran, while also bringing the building into the 21st century with renewable energy and multi-purpose community space. What are you most excited about to keep around from Moran's first life, in its newest incarnation? 

TC: Moran was one of the first power plants in the country to match its architecture to its function, so I'm excited to keep the big structural elements while figuring out how to use them in a contemporary, but equally functional setting. 

Inside Moran, 2015. Photo: Dan Cardon

Inside Moran, 2015. Photo: Dan Cardon

Alps & Meters: Favorite way to spend time outside in the off-season? 

TC: A pretty girl introduced me to fly fishing this spring- I can't recommend it enough. 

Alps & Meters: Outside of your 9-5, what's your passion craft? 

TC: Oh man. I spend a lot of time with an old Nikon 35mm camera in my hand, so that's probably the top choice. My pickled banana peppers also get really solid reviews. The key is fresh Hungarian peppers when they're just turning yellow. (A&M Note- Tad took all of these photos. Consider us impressed...)

Tad and Erick's Green Van in the Green Mountains    

Tad and Erick's Green Van in the Green Mountains

 

 

Alps & Meters: It's been a long week...You need to get outdoors, quickly. Where are you headed? 

I got into jack-jumping last winter in a big way. At the end of a long week, nothing beats risking your life riding seated on one ski down the nearest medium sized snow bank. 

Alps & Meters: Après-ski cocktail of choice? 

TC: I won't say I've had coffee and a Pabst after a sunrise hike, but if I had...

Follow along with Tad on instagram and be sure to check out www.moranplant.org