As skiers, we make friends easily. We all share the same mind, the same values, the same stoke. We ski together, drink together, and sleep on each other’s couches. We all know each other.
In that vein, I’m starting an interview series. My aim is to find the guy or girl in every single ski town, everywhere. And the next guy, and the next girl after that. The catch: Each person I interview will recommend the person I talk to next. It’s a journey. We’ll see where it takes us.
While thinking about whom should be my first interview, I came across this photo, a guy in a business suit straightlining an air over a bunch of rocks. I wanted to talk to this skier, and eventually I found Hugh Gren, 44, of Enumclaw, Washington. Known as Hyper Hugh, he is probably the happiest skier on the planet. I could hear his smile on the telephone.
Hugh Gren: Yay Interview!
POWDER: Yeah! Yeah! I’ll start off with my go-to question: What’d you have for breakfast today?
Just the standard. For years now, it’s just a bagel, peanut butter with whatever bananas I can find at my place that aren’t rotten that I can put on top.
Awesome, nutritious, and easy. I like it. Where do you live?
I live in Enumclaw, Washington. It’s like 33 miles from Crystal Mountain—only two stop lights.
What’s your ride?
1998 Subaru Legacy Station Wagon, with a really loud stereo system. I’ve had this thing for four years now. I bought it with, like, 20,000 miles and it has like a 160,000 on it now. It’s all the trips up and down the ALCAN, between here and Alaska, and to Utah and back.
What brought you up to Alaska?
Crystal is my home mountain. I started skiing in 1989. I was there for 10 years and then I had an opportunity to go to Alaska and totally jumped on it in ’99. I went up there and built a remote lodge on Raspberry Island. I ended up staying there [Alaska] for 14 years.
That sounds far away.
Yeah, [Raspberry Island is] one island north of Kodiak Island. Very isolated. I spent the entire winter up there working on the inside of this lodge. I brought my skis and I was hiking up and skiing down all these lines in the middle of nowhere. I was alone, one time, for like 40 days. I had to shoot an elk, literally, because I ran out of food. I bagged an elk and ate everything.
It came with a little skit [boat] to float around Onion Bay. I remember just seeing these giant grey whales underneath me and the water was so crystal clear. There’s wildlife everywhere.
That’s probably the loneliest I’ve ever been. But I definitely made the most of it.
What do you do for work in the winter now?
I really don’t work in the winter. I just ski every day.
What’s your skier persona?
My nickname is Happy Hyper Hugh ’cause I’m just super hyper. I’m just like a robot, just up-and-down, up-and-down, up-and-down. Even if it’s not that good. I have this saying: It’s the second best day ever. I’ll just go around and start telling everybody, “It’s the second best day ever!” It could be bare, blue ice and it’s just super fun. I’m kinda weird that way.
What makes you so addicted to skiing?
In the moment, whatever you’re doing, wherever you’re skiing, you don’t think about nothing else. There’s nothing else on your mind. It’s just skiing. And that is just awesome to have nothing else on your mind as you’re skiing down. I love having a clear mind. To me, that is in itself, addicting.
One thing about me, if I see friends ripping a line, I get so excited. I mean, the chair might start shaking. I start jumping up and down in my seat. I get so excited about just seeing my friends rip under the chair that it’s like I’m a high school cheerleader with pom poms.
So in the summers, you’re a contractor?
I paint houses. [Photographer] Matt Small—I started painting on his crew when I was 19. That’s pretty much what I’ve been doing ever since.
What advice do you have for the diehard 19-year-olds out there?
Hmmmm, well, you know, you can’t go to college.
I would just say pick a trade that you can do in the summer and save the money and, if you get a job, definitely don’t get a day job. Get a swing shift or a graveyard so you can ski everyday.
Did you ski as a kid?
No, I didn’t start skiing until I was 19. I thought I was going to go play some college football, and I took a year off, got a job at Crystal, and that’s all she wrote.
So it just clicked, and you knew that was what you wanted in life?
I saw an ad in the paper for a job opening up at Crystal. I went straight up there. In high school, when I was doing my homework and stuff, I would sit on my parents’ roof and I could see literally, toward Crystal, all the mountains and the hills and I would day dream about being up there. I saw the opening, and I was like, oh my god, I’m gone.
I just live and breathe skiing. Now I’m a little more realistic about it. But I’m just as addicted. I wear funky suits all the time, and it’s just fun. It’s like my character is brought out in skiing. My inner character, my inner child.
At the end of the interview, Hugh said he needed to think overnight about the person he would recommend I talk to next. (It’s a big decision—the one skier you want to know more about.) The next day, I got this e-mail with the subject line: Passing the torch.
Mooooooooorning Julie! So here is a good torchbearer for sure! This dude is an incredible skier and ohhhhh boy what a character!!! His name is Steve Fratella…