Morpheme: An Annual Legend

Meeting the man who skis year-round and doesn’t know otherwise

A red-blooded Italian, Nick Pontarolo loves making delicious sausage as much as slashing turns, which he’s done for 15 straight months, from Afghanistan to the Idaho Panhandle. PHOTO: Bruce Kirkby
A red-blooded Italian, Nick Pontarolo loves making delicious sausage as much as slashing turns, which he’s done for 15 straight months, from Afghanistan to the Idaho Panhandle. PHOTO: Bruce Kirkby

This story originally published in the February 2014 issue of POWDER (43.6)
WORDS: Nick Pontarolo

Sitting at Mount Rainier’s Camp Muir waiting for the avalanche conditions to subside, I looked down at the skiers splashing out turns. Looking on beside me stood Tom Szwedko. It was July 4 when I met him on the rock rim of Muir. Tom wore tattered khaki pants, rust-colored gaiters, and a tele setup that had forgotten more sweeping turns than I had ever made. Seeing his Grizzly Adams beard and a smile that etched laughter lines only a powder hound could replicate, I introduced myself. Soon I learned the hidden secret behind his honest eyes: Tom had skied every month since before I was born.

An East Coast native, he had sewn together his reality with myriad ski adventures. Not the yearly trip to Vail to shred groomers but the monthly sojourn into the wilderness for over 360 consecutive months to ski whatever the mountain had to offer.

As I pulled out my flip phone to grab his number, Tom looked at me with astonishment. He didn’t care about the press, or if anyone ever knew his accomplishment. To him, the memory was enough. I took down his number, smiling ear-to-ear, as he strapped his tele skis to his feet and celebrated Independence Day like any good red-blooded patriot. As he disappeared down the 4,000 feet of pristine corn under blue skies that merged into the volcanic bliss of Adams, St. Helens, and Hood, I was inspired.

Some two years later, I stared out my office window; suit on, tie off. I am consumed by snow. Skis lean in the corner against the corporate-approved off-white paint. My ski boot liners sit stacked next to the heat vent. How many times can I recite Dexter Rutecki and T.J. Burke movie lines from Aspen Extreme without anyone being the wiser? I scrolled through my phone to Tom Szwedko. Where is this cat gonna find snow in September or October? Maybe I could join him and share a tall can as a token of my appreciation for his zeal. I wondered what he would say if I invited him on my month 15?

The other end of the line started ringing…