Here, you'll find the stories our friends and followers have shared about their #MyFirstMountain experience...
Ask a collection of mountain resort industry folks and die-hard skiers where they got their start, and you’ll find most of their “home” mountains weren’t ones featured in extreme ski films. The community ski hill and small, independently-owned ski areas have played a major part in the developement of the ski bum. We pay tribute to these ski areas. Read these stories from our friends and followers about their first times on snow, and entry into the world of skiing and snowboarding.
Listen to some of these stories while on the road or at your desk on PodSAM.
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Communications Manager - Northeast, Vail Resorts
I was introduced to skiing during my college years, and I envy those people who don’t remember learning to ski any more than they remember learning to walk – since both happened simultaneously. I spent my first ski weekend at Sugarbush North, in Vermont, visiting friends who worked on the mountain. I slept on their living room floor in front of the woodstove and still remember the excruciating pain of trying to get up the morning after my first day on the slopes. Day two on skis was a soaker, so we all donned black-plastic garbage bags and made the most of it. My friend Ben, a ski patroller who was taking a winter off after medical school to ski, was so kind and patient. He helped me up when I fell and he supported me on the steeps when I awkwardly tried to click into my bindings after a yard-sale blowout on terrain that was clearly above my ability level. He made me laugh when I felt most like crying and encouraged me when I wanted to quit. I have Ben to thank for my love of the sport that ultimately led to my career in the ski industry.
Most of us who learned to ski or snowboard sometime after we learned to walk have a genesis story that includes a “Ben.” We have vivid memories of those first awkward moments and painful days after. We all have that person to thank for their patience and kindness ... and we have a responsibility to be that person for someone else. While we may not have the expertise or skill required to teach a newbie how to ski (some things are best left to professionals), we all can introduce a friend or family member to the sport we love through kindness, encouragement, opportunity, and maybe some floor space in front of the woodstove.
Digital Marketing Specialist, Angel Fire Resort
The very first time I skiied I was about four years old. I remember my dad and grandpa schlepping me into the rental room at Alpine Valley. Standing at the counter I couldn't see more that the wood desk in front of me, yellow walls, and feeling cold, really cold. Next thing I know I'm sitting on a toboggan that was roped off to the back of a 4 wheeler. Dad and Grandpa said they were going to go ski the big hills‚ and that they'd pick me up here when my lesson was done.
I sat on the sled with 8 other kids as we were brought around to the bunny hill. I don't remember much about the lesson itself, other than crying and hearing "Pizza & French Fry!" a lot. Nothing sticks out like a thought I had, that I would never see my dad again. However irrational that is, it somehow made sense in my 4 year old brain as I was holding on to the rope tow for dear life enticing yet another crying breakdown.
Assumingly, the hours past, and my father did in fact find me, with enough time to take one run together before we left. I guess that my biggest takeaway from these memories is that I will be the one that teaches my children to ski.
That was the first experience I had skiing, and it would be the only one I had for a number of years. Granted, I did beg dad to take me skiing, but lack of snow for a few years never really let that happen. In 2000 we took a family trip to Vail, Co. If anyone can pinpoint a single, life changing experience, this would be mine. I use the term family very loosely because my mom's boss took us on one of his medical conferences. Again, dad signed me up for a lesson, actually it was a 2 day lesson. Great, what repressed memories would come rushing out?
Again, I was schlepped into the rental room, geared up. And again, I was terrified. Until we were all grouped together and we met our instructor, a total Brad (His name probably wasn't actually Brad). Brad loaded us up to the midway station and we played the usual name games, showed us how to Pizza/French Fry, and made us ski down to him, one at a time. I didn't go first, I didn;t go last. I was somewhere in the middle. I remember making my way towards Brad and my body somehow remembered how to Pizza and French Fry. It had been about four years but my 8 year old body somehow retained the basic skills to slide down a hill at a very slow rate. The lesson ended and I met up with my dad. We were able to take one run together before things shut down for the day. That evening we left our hotel and did the thing every tourist family does apres ski, walk around and look at the shops.
This would also be the very first time I walked into a ski shop. Dad and I walked into the dark room. There was a small TV behind the counter playing clip after clip of skiers and snowboarders jumping of cliffs and skiing through deep powder all while funky music plays in the background. Dad and I walked through the shop for a bit, checking out the cool skis and things I never knew existed. Neither one of us had goggles when we arrived, so he bought us each a pair of blue Smith goggles with persimmon lenses. I was stoked.
Day 2 of lessons went by about as quick as day one. We went through the fun zone, I did my first safety grab off a little roller, and for the first time, I remember falling in love with skiing and the snow. This is the same feeling I chase every time I step into my skis, to this day. The next day, dad and I set off to ski on our own. This was an absolute disaster. I;m not sure why, or how, but skiing just the two of us triggered something in me to emotionally shut down. There was one run that overlooked what seemed to be a never ending valley, that I took one look at and the tears started while my dad was already half way down the run. I finally was able to reach him, still panicked, and he attempted to talk me down. From there we headed to the halfway house and took a break. Dad asked me if I wanted to ski the rest of the way down, or if I wanted to take the gondola. I told him that I wanted to ski down and we began to reassemble our gear. I don't remember much after this, except having a breakdown somewhere near a trail sign.
I also witnessed my first rail jam in Vail. Skiers and snowboarders were hitting what was probably an 8 set down rail. The winner of the rail jam was awarded with a brand new hot tub. This absolutely blew my mind. All these grungy looking people had to do was ride down a rail and the person that did it the best got a free hot tub. What? The next morning we packed up our bags and headed back to Michigan. And for some reason, even though I cried, I panicked, and I was cold, all I wanted was to go skiing again.
Mountain Manager, Devil's Head Resort
My very first Home "Mtn" was Teeple Hill in Oakland County Mi. A very small state run recreational park with a couple rope tows. Long gone now. After taking a few runs with skis, I would sneak back onto the hill when the park ranger was not looking with my Snurfer!
General Manager, Mount Ashland
I was just a baby when my father was on ski patrol at Crotched Mountain in Francestown, NH. I mastered my "pizza" at just two years old in the early 70’s. Every available day and night our family had, we were there in the patrol room ready to head out for untold adventures.
I can still picture the red snow suit I wore as I explored the mountain like I owned the place. I remember walking into the lodge in my wooden skis still firmly attached to go to the bathroom because safety straps were a horrible invention! In the end I didn't make it and when mom was washing the red suit she asked "why didn't you just go in the woods?" Now knowing that was an option, I never saw the lodge bathrooms again. I went bell to bell every day. Back then parents were comfortable letting even the tiniest of skiers roam free. After sacrificing a number of wool mittens to the rope tow I moved on to the t-bar where I would ride solo as not to have the T in my back. I floated in mid-air, spinning in circles, until jumping off at the top. The lift operators cringed to see the bar swing wildly into the guides around the bull wheel narrowly escaping a de-rope. I was not allowed to ride the old Hall double chair until I could raise the heavy steel safety bar on my own. In fact there was a hand carved sign about safety bar requirements that was spelled “Safty Bar". We got a chuckle about that with each ride. Despite the small size, Crotched never got old. Full tucks down Willet's run and Blitz were commonplace. Pre-jumping the headwall on Blitz was a necessity to avoid flat splatting the landing.
My mom made me a patrol belt and my Jr. Patrol career was launched. We would do sweep with our parents at the end of the day, tucking blitz of course, so we were not much help. As time passed the lodge became more than a second home to me. It was home. After the lifts closed, the kids played in the snow or wore out the video games and ate french fries while our parents listened to the Bavarian Oompa band and ate fondue in the bar.
All throughout my school years we would ski under the lights in the after school programs. We would steal a kiss on the dark chairlift and hold hands on the bus ride home. Many a romance has blossomed at the ski hill. My mom (and now my sister Danielle) volunteered to manage a few of the after school programs and as a result we also had season passes at Pat’s Peak as schools were lured from one area to the other. Pat’s was not my first mountain but an incredibly important part of my early ski life. Glen Plake perfectly described Pat’s as a “little skier factory”, a testament to their ability to cram hundreds of school buses into the parking lot night after night.
Our Crotched Mountain “family” grew and consisted of folks from near and far. Many of them we would never see outside of the ski area, but considered them the closest of friends. The closest we ever got to non-skiing gatherings were the trips to Grandmother’s Restaurant and Albertos that had the tag line “The best food by a dam site” as it sat next to a dam at a small mill in Bennington NH. I still remember so many of the families that inhabited the mountain to this day despite having no contact with them in decades.
Eventually, when the cross trails were created linking what would be called Crotched East to the Bobcat (previously Onset) side, the mountain got larger, but I was always more fond of the original east side and it’s iconic lodge and more exciting terrain that fill my memories.
As I reflect back, my best memories were hanging out in the top shack of the chair in my “ski patrol uniform” with my dad, building jumps with friends, and exploring every inch of the mountain. One of the most vivid memories was getting my first ride in an old Tucker Sno Cat. In a bizarre twist of fate I now live 30 minutes from Medford Oregon, home of Tucker (the original!) Sno Cat. I get all nostalgic every time I pass the factory and see those beautiful orange machines. Time wore on and as with many small ski areas, the mountain’s financial position slid downhill after a few bad seasons and an unsuccessful condo development project. Eventually my little home mountain closed in 1989 filing chapter 11. We were all devastated.
Thanks to NELSAP (New England Lost Ski Areas Project) my skinning buddies would seek out other small defunct ski areas across New England to have semi-manicured backcountry skiing. My friends and I continued to skin to the top of Crotched bagging turns on the still skiable runs. That all ended on a full moon night where we sat at the top, drinking brandy, and took our final run in the moonlight dodging the inevitable saplings that took back the trails and returned them to forest. The lifts still eerily silent, chairs and T’s swinging in the wind, I wept. It finally sunk in that my old stomping grounds weren’t coming back. Miraculously in 2003 the West side was purchased and re-developed by Peak Resorts. They did an amazing job rebuilding the area to withstand tough winters. An impressive snowmaking system was installed that could blanket the area in hours ensuring they could open if the temperatures allowed. Many were not impressed with the new industrial steel building that replaced the old wooden lodge, but remember, it’s not about the lodge for me. It is about the skiing, the vibe, the family, and camaraderie that lives only in these little community gems. I was elated that unlike most defunct ski areas, Crotched came back and is still here today. It is extremely rare for ski areas to return from the dead and to have my first mountain rise from the ashes fills me with hope for the future of these special places. Antelope Butte is a recent success story and a reminder that with community support anything is achievable. Let’s all hope for more.
A year before Crotched’s triumphant return I left the misery of a very successful high tech career. After my wife Jeannine and I did some soul searching and dug deep into what was important in life, we took a huge cut in pay, and started in the ski business joining the team at Sunday River in 2002. I worked my way through the ranks over 12 years when I finally returned to the soul and the deep roots of skiing. I am proud to now manage Mt. Ashland, a small non-profit community ski area in Southern Oregon. We share the same challenges as Crotched and all small ski areas in times of higher costs and shorter, more unpredictable winters. My first year at the helm followed the 50th anniversary season at Mt. Ashland. Receiving only 100 inches of snow in 2014, the lifts never spun and the area teetered on the edge of closure as it had many times before. In my first season I was painfully delivered 87 inches of snow and we squeezed 38 days of operations out of every last flake, closing and re-opening three times. With a few good winters since, our position is as strong as ever and we are braced for difficulties ahead. But there are no guarantees. We are snow farmers, and farming isn’t always great especially when Mother Nature takes her extended vacations. Mt. Ashland has returned me to the special feelings I could only get at my first mountain. The most important mountain in my life. Crotched Mountain. The one that fostered my love of this amazing sport and the wonderful people that make it what it is. Support your community ski hills. They are the most important ones on the planet. Without them millions of people will not have the life changing experiences these little mountains deliver. Experiences that grow from the roots you plant on your first mountain.
Vice President, Shawnee Peak
My first mountain was Spruce Peak at Stowe, back when they had the green double chairs. My parents tell the (debatable) story of me being carried onto the lift as I refused to get on, yet somehow I made it down the slopes. I have vivid memories of the old base lodge and a getting a fountain Coke as a treat. Last December, I had quite the trip down memory lane when I got married at the Stowe Mountain Lodge, 30 years later!
Director of Mountain Ops, Timberline Lodge, Mt. Hood
I came to skiing fairly late in life at age 21. I took a year off from college and decided to move to Oregon. I needed a job and Timberline Lodge had openings in the lift department. I started as a lift operator for a winter then that summer the palmer chairlift was being built to access the glacial snowfield, so I got a job on the crew. That was the best thing ever happened to me. I made many great friends that are close friends to this day and it started me on the career path that has continued for 45 years now. That next winter I started working the lift maintenance department and driving the bus. I also started to learn to ski that year by the crash and burn method. Eventually the crash times were less and less but the burn in my legs grew as I fell in love with telemark skiing. Back then telemark equipment was also just about non-existent, so I would find old double lace ski boots and get three pin soles put on them, and mount 3 pin bindings on old rental skis. That is also how my second passion started in collecting old ski memorabilia. As I learned to tele-ski I wanted to learn why the type of skiing had disappeared so in addition to looking for old double lace boots I started to collect ski books about telemark skiing, Then posters, brochures, old skis, old boots, and just about anything about old skiing.
Stay tuned for more stories.