“Skiing – the art of catching a cold and going broke while rapidly heading nowhere at great personal risk.” (Henry Beard & Roy McKie)
I love this definition of skiing, but in my case it couldn’t be farther from the truth
It goes without saying that sports have shaped the course of many lives. Some of the most influential people have been sports stars. Without the love and talent for the sport, their lives would have taken a much different track. While I am not a pro athlete, having never competed professionally or won an Olympic medal, without skiing my life would have been very different.
I grew up in a tiny community in the Catskill Mountains of New York State. It was once a farm community that ventured into the world of skiing in the early 1960’s and with its proximity to New York City had become a hot spot for families wanting to ski by the 1980’s. Growing up there in the 70’s there was very little opportunity and little motivation for people to explore the world. The school was very small and suffocating with no acceptance of individualism. While growing up very few of the local townspeople skied, however the ski area offered low cost after-school ski lessons to the students of the local school district. At nine years old, I was excited to try skiing, yet I never imagined the positive impact it would have on my life
Surprisingly, I took to the sport as I never seemed to have the skill to play a sport that involved a ball. As I grew older all I wanted to do was figure out a way to ski. When I was zipping down those snow-covered hills the confinements of growing up in a small town faded away. With a lack of funds for purchasing lift tickets I had to come up with other options. So, at fifteen I got my working papers and secured a weekend job at the ski area. The result was that I watched people ski all weekend and maybe managed to get a run or two in after school during the week. It was not what I had in mind. Definition of Ski Bum -“Ski Bum –Someone who, because he would rather ski than work, takes a low-paying job at a ski resort so that he can watch people with high-paying jobs ski while he is working.” (Henry Beard & Roy McKie)
Plan B for the following winter – I would become a ski instructor. Keep in mind that I was not that good of skier and I was painfully shy. This didn’t stop me though, as I discovered that the ski school actually looked for teenagers to teach young kids to ski, so I gave it a try and that’s where my life as I know it all began.
I was accepted to the ski school where I taught 3 to 8 year olds to ski. For the most part,
those first few years, I was a babysitter on the snow, but that was okay. I not only got to ski, but I received incredible ski training and that’s how I became an excellent skier. Before I knew it I was skipping gym class the last period of the day and hustling onto the slopes. I won’t discuss how that almost prevented me from graduating high school.
After high school and two years of disinterest at a community college, I decided to spend my winters teaching skiing full time. Once I had made the decision to teach skiing full time I jumped in head-first. I wasn’t satisfied with just showing up and teaching a few lessons then ski bumming the winter away. Yes, I wanted to ski, but I wanted to make some money and excel at what I was doing. So I got an education in ski teaching. I did this through reading everything I could find on the subject, attending training clinics, and practicing what I was learning on my students. Before long I had a following of skiers, of all ages, requesting me for lessons. In March of 1987 I took the grueling associate certification exam, passed and became a certified PSIA ski instructor. That year I also was voted Male Ski Instructor of the year by my fellow ski instructors.
The professional part certainly had a huge impact on shaping my life, but it was the social part that shaped it the most. As a full time ski employee, meaning being part of the full time staff of the ski school, courtesy patrol or ski patrol, there were no age differences or exclusions, and we all became one big family. My confidence soared and I exploded out of my high school protective shell I had lived in for so long. I made friends of all ages and from all walks of life. During the winter months, I had groups of friends to be a part of a different social event every night of the week. I was having the time of my life, meeting terrific people and making meaningful friendships.
Professionally I wanted more and my true abilities and talent lied in teaching children. I was a magnet to them and they couldn’t get enough of me. So when the opportunity presented itself to take on the responsibility of directing the children’s ski school, I grabbed it. A few years later I saw another opportunity and jumped at the occasion. The ski resort had built a new base lodge with a state of the art children’s facility, and it was not only being poorly ran, but viewed as a separate entity from the children’s ski school. I did some research and formulated a plan to integrate them into a cohesive children’s skiing center, then presented my plan and received the promotion of the Children’s Learning Center Director. In doing this I designed ski programs for children aged 3 to 13 that are still being offered today. I also gained valuable job skills for the resume.
There were years I skied every day from Thanksgiving to Mid-April. Having ski boots on became more normal than sneakers, and I wore the hair off the part of my legs that were in the ski boots. To this day I have no hair on that part of my legs. My face would become a deep bronze from the sun and my skiing skills were polished. On my days off I would find a friend to take day trips to Vermont and in April would plan ski trips with groups of other instructors. In doing this I skied the Austrian Alps, traveled Austria, Switzerland, and
Amsterdam, Holland. I skied all the major ski areas in Utah and skied in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. One May I climbed Tuckerman’s ravine on Mt Washington in
New Hampshire just to ski down. Once I was given the task of skiing all day with a journalist doing an article for Ski Magazine and was quoted in a national magazine article, and all these adventures were shared with some of the most interesting and wonderful mix of people I have ever met. These experiences would have not existed without skiing.
Log on next Sunday January 26th to see how I met my wife, found a career, bonded with my children and recovered from a life changing injury all with the help of skiing.