My Seattle Goodwill run was coming up zeros until my roommate handed over the photo.
“Hey dude, you ski right?”
Inside the dusty frame I found a young man caught mid-360—legs straight, tips pointed, arms drawn in, and a shock of brown hair obscuring a spotted landing. On yellowing tape along the frame’s backside sat a sloppy inscription, “Rog Brockway, ‘Helicopter 1975’, Ski Acres, Shot by Chuck Brockway.” Over three decades later, this shot was a moment frozen in ski history. Pupils widened, imagination piqued, I decided that I needed to hear the photo’s story from its rightful owners—$2.99 be damned.
When I was still counting my age on two hands it wasn’t the gooey cinammon buns that caught my attention in the ski lodge, it was the old posters on the walls. They gave me a glimpse at what came before me, and left me wanting to know more. Why did people wear those silly boots? Weren’t they cold? Was there more snow then? Did it hurt to fall as much as it does now?
It’s funny, but unanswered childhood questions have a way of sticking with you. Maybe this photo would put some of those questions to rest. Maybe this time I could get some answers.
It was a bit ambitious to think that two brothers from the ’70s were still around the area, but three weeks of Internet searches and cold calls brought me to a last Chuck Brockway. Using a White Pages entry from 1996, I skipped the call and drove to the listed address on nearby Mercer Island, Paul Allen’s hood, to find Chuck and his dog leaving a quiet three-story stucco.
He was a bit thrown off by my random drive-up, yet nodded an acknowledging ‘yes’ when I showed him the photo. My anticipation went into overdrive.
“What is this for?” He asked.
“Nothing really,” I sputtered, “Well, I mean, I write for a magazine.”
The implications of my statement weighted Chuck’s frown.
“But I’m not here for that,” I insisted. “I…well, I want to know about the picture.”
Staring at me incredulously, Chuck finally caved. He remembered that day at Ski Acres back in 1975. He and his brother Roger had just finished their shift at the resort’s Issaquah Ski School, where they worked as instructors. Emboldened by a fresh coat of snow on Snoqualmie Pass, a bunch of the other instructors had built a backflip jump by one of the sleepy old ski chalets, and though he rarely brought his camera to the mountain, Chuck had his Nikon F2 to capture the action. The brothers hit the jump a few times, then Roger went for the spin and Chuck held down the shutter. The shot stuck, immortalized on their parents’ shelf for over three decades before a move banished it to the back of a Goodwill.
But things had changed in 30 years. Ski Acres had become Snoqualmie’s Summit Central, Chuck was now Charles, and, perhaps most disappointing, Charles hadn’t skied Washington in over five years.
Charles, now a pilot for United Airlines, recollected the event with dry indifference, yet I hoped he hadn’t given up on the mountains completely. Eventually the cracks surfaced, one corner of his mouth sliding into a sly grin when he mentioned his days working at ski school—Charles hadn’t moved as far away as initially feared. In fact, it was during his days at Ski Acres that he met his wife of 30 years (then the ski school director’s daughter). His son eventually followed in his footsteps as a ski instructor at Snoqualmie, and his brother Roger, now a carpenter in the Seattle area, returned to Snoqualmie after a 10-year hiatus to teach his daughter how to ski this past winter. The mountains continued to shape the Brockways, even after Charles had seemingly left them behind.
We said our goodbyes after 15 minutes and accepted that our meeting was strange at best. Still, I felt satisfied knowing that a nosey kid with a bit too much free time had brought Charles back to a day in 1975 when a Bob Dylan shag doubled as performance headwear, straight-legged helicopters were a rite of passage, and Charles and Roger were still just Chuck and Rog.
It wasn’t the dramatic reunion that movies are made of (he didn’t even take the picture back), but for me, the symbolism of the photo was important. Because whether it’s a posed family resort portrait, a picture of you laughing while your buddy retrieves his yard sale, or a shot of you landing that first 360, we all have that photo, that moment in time. Someday someone will stumble upon my moment, and who knows, maybe that someone will ask me about it. I hope they do.