Remembering Mountaineer Patti Polinsky

With great sadness we share that Patti Polinsky, a beloved 56-year member of our community, has passed away.
The Mountaineers The Mountaineers
June 25, 2021
Remembering Mountaineer Patti Polinsky

Updated 7/16/21 to add information about the planned memorial date for Patti.

With great sadness we share the news of the passing of Patti Polinsky, a 56-year member of The Mountaineers, long-time volunteer with Meany Lodge and the Foothills Branch, ski instructor, and Global Adventures Leader. Patti passed away after a long battle with cancer on June 15, 2021. She was comfortable and surrounded by loved ones, including her husband of 45 years, Dave Claar.

Patti's contributions to The Mountaineers community are immense, spanning more than five decades across many continents, as well as close to home. Over the years, Patti was recognized with our Mountaineers Leader of the Year award in 2020, our Outdoor Centers Service Award in 2019, and our Mountaineers Service Award in 2016. She leaves behind her husband Dave and sister-in-law Charlene Peck. 

Patti joined The Mountaineers right after college, wanting to learn how to "sleep outside safely." She recently joked that she was keen to quit right after gaining those skills, but life had other plans, and Patti quickly became very involved.

Patti epitomized what it means to be a Mountaineer. She joined in 1965, enrolling in our Basic Climbing Course. When she graduated, instead of quitting as she planned, Patti enrolled in Intermediate Climbing. She was hooked, and in 1970 earned her Six Majors peak pin, among other notable climbing achievements. 

Patti's membership predates many of the records we have on hand, but we do know that she served on our Board of Directors for a number of years beginning in 1991 (including as its Secretary), and that she started volunteering at our Meany Lodge in the 1960s. Patti formalized a ski school at Meany Lodge in 1970 and has been credited with keeping it going ever since, including training dozens of new volunteer instructors over the years. She's taught over 1,000 Mountaineers and Meany Lodge visitors how to backcountry ski, downhill ski, and cross country ski. Plus, she's helped them master the ropes - literally - of the Meany Rope Tow, which tops out at 15 miles per hour. Patti was also synonymous with Meany Lodge's fall event - the Mushroom Weekend, an activity she led since its inception. 

"Working with Patti was always a master class in Servant Leadership," said Chuck Welter, the long-running Chair of Meany Lodge. "Patti was always focused on the needs of the people she was working with and leading. I learned a lot from the 20+ years that I was privileged to know her and work with her."

In 1985, Patti attended a trip to Austria with our Global Adventures program. The following year she went back to Austria and took a second trip to ski in Italy and France, all with Global Adventures. Thus began her love for international travel with The Mountaineers. Over nearly three decades Patti led more than three dozen international trips to destinations in Europe and Japan. Patti's taken hikers to the coast of England and New England to see the fall colors. She's led ski trips that included lots of eating in France and Switzerland. And she's shown intrepid powder hounds the world-famous powder in Japan.

We interviewed Patti recently for her Leader of the Year Award, and she had this to say about her time in The Mountaineers: "I had years of fun and great memories. And wonderful people I've met through the club, including my husband." 

Patti was well-loved by The Mountaineers community, in particular at Meany Lodge. She's been recognized for her flexibility, adaptability, leadership (both in cultivating new leaders and in supporting existing ones), and in her overall organization. That's to say nothing for her huge zest for life. Here are a few things Patti's participants had to say about her, including participants on her most recent Global Adventure who had to be whisked home early due to COVID-19:

  • Patti did a GREAT job dealing with changing circumstances on this trip. When Tyrol closed all the hotels in the area she got us to our departure city of Munich and booked into our pre-departure hotel so we knew we had some place to stay. Excellent foresight and planning!!
  • Patti went above and beyond safety and security measures. Our group mainly consisted of two levels of skiers. Excellent and intermediate. Most were in the excellent category and skied with the leader. HOWEVER, the leader always made sure intermediate skier(s) had an advanced skier with them and one who knew the mountain runs. I also was grateful and impressed with the leader's calls regarding exiting the country in a timely, orderly, and efficient manner. Not only were safety needs met but she handled the tension and all the changing of hotels, transportation, and airlines with grace, warmth, and calmness.
  • Patti not only planned the often-changing weekend's activities well, she took on any additional instruction responsibilities necessitated by last minute roster changes. Patti touched base with instructors on a daily basis to ensure that we had a good understanding of expectations for the day.
  • I picked a ski lesson from Patti because of a very positive experience 30 years ago. She did not disappoint. I (re)learned enough to get me skiing again after a very long respite. 
  • Patti is a wonderful ski instructor. She is dedicated to ensuring a positive experience. She is prepared with the lesson plan (and treats!), yet flexible to suit the conditions or students specifically. I learned a lot, I had fun, and the class built my confidence. I would recommend a ski lesson to anyone. I feel anyone could learn something from Patti's expertise!

In addition to her influential role as a volunteer, Patti was also a steadfast charitable donor to The Mountaineers. Inspired by our collective efforts to introduce people to the outdoors, as well as our conservation and advocacy outcomes, Patti joined our leadership giving circle in 2014, the Peak Society, and has renewed her support every year since. 

Our deepest sympathies go out to Patti's husband Dave, her friends and family, the Meany Lodge community, and all of her many course and activity participants. Patti was a true gem, and her smile and intrepid spirit are missed already. Her passing will be felt in our community for years to come.

Public Memorial

Please join us on October 24 from 12-2pm for a community celebration in Patti's memory. More details will be shared soon on the event listing. Please RSVP.


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Barbara Vane
Barbara Vane says:
Jun 25, 2021 06:38 PM

I was fortunate enough to be guided by Patti on two hiking trips: northern Maine including Mt Katahdin, and New Hampshire’s Presidential Traverse. Both were extremely well planned and are memories I will cherish. Dave, my thoughts are with you. She definitely was a bright light.
My best, Barbara Vane.

Cindy Hoover
Cindy Hoover says:
Jun 26, 2021 08:54 AM

Patti was such a warm and generous person! Her contributions to the Mountaineers were monumental, she was a really excellent leader, and I feel so fortunate to have known her.

Jeff Norman
Jeff Norman says:
Jun 28, 2021 02:47 PM

We loved our time at Meany Mid 70's - 80's and remember Patti well. Fast forward to 2016 and a summer work party at Meany, and a chance to car pool with her. Great memories. She also managed the amazing mushroom foray weekend in October at Meany. So many mushrooms, and such meals! We were scheduled to go to Costa Rica with her in September 2021, but that trip was also canceled due to COVID. She was truly amazing, and Ann & I will keep Patti, her family and friends in our prayers. We share your loss. Jeff & Ann Norman

Eva Schoenleitner
Eva Schoenleitner says:
Jun 29, 2021 06:37 AM

Oh no, what sad news to read - even being currently located in Switzerland. Patti has been a great Mountaineering friend and mentor at several outings over the years. I miss you already. Please do let us know how to share our thoughts with the family. Eva Schoenleitner

Juliane Gust
Juliane Gust says:
Jun 29, 2021 10:28 AM

We love you and miss you terribly, Patti.

Dave Schultz
Dave Schultz says:
Jun 29, 2021 09:31 PM

We've never known anyone like Patti, full of energy and passion for everything she touched. She was always curious to learn more. She had incredible woodworking skills, was a fabulous cook, an excellent gardener, a rescuer of lonesome bunnies, generous, intelligent, gifted at leading diverse groups and teaching all levels of skiers. Patti led our trip to Costa Rica after 2 years of planning and it showed every day. That was an experience we will always treasure, and all due to the fact our sons learned to ski at Meany Lodge in the early 1990's. Over 20 years later we met and it was as if time had stopped and she just picked up our friendship in the best of ways. Dave, we know you gave her a wonderful life and will miss her the most. We loved Patti, too. Betsy and Dave Schultz

Earle Oda
Earle Oda says:
Jul 02, 2021 11:43 AM

Dear Patti,

Thank you for welcoming to Meany a couple of winters ago and for taking the time to teach me how to ski. I will always be grateful and remember your vision of having next generations continue the tradition of the Meany experience. I will not forget your heated ski gloves too! We will miss you.


Frank Albano
Frank Albano says:
Jul 06, 2021 11:09 AM

I enjoyed Patti's leadership on two Mountaineers adventure trips. She was kind and patient with everyone's needs.

Tom Keller
Tom Keller says:
Jul 09, 2021 06:55 AM

I first met Patti up at Meany Lodge, where we would train Olympia Mountaineers in XC skiing. That was in the late 90s, and for several years afterwards. She was always gracious, and very helpful. Years, after that, I led mushroom walks at Meany, which she coordinated. Again, she always put on a great Mushroom Weekend. She will be missed at Meany, and in the Mountaineers. Dave, our hearts go out to you! Best wishes, Tom and Karen Keller, Olympia Branch members.