This is the latest installment of Pay It Forward, an interview series designed 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.
My last interview, Hugh Gren, recommended I catch up with Steve Fratella, 44, of Kent, Washington, a guy who has been skiing Crystal Mountain day in and day out for 25 years. It’s a good life.
POWDER: So you’re a Crystal guy.
Steve Fratella: I’m a Crystal guy. Forever.
How long’s that?
I’ve been skiing Crystal since the ’88/’89 season and pretty much every year since then. Crystal at heart.
Bring me back to the beginning and tell me more about that first year.
I was a lift-op. It was actually the first time I spent time in the mountains like that. The whole thing was new to me, the snow—[I’m from] eastern Washington [where it] doesn’t get any snow. To this day, the people that I met that first year I still talk to and hang out with. Some of those guys are my best friends.
So you graduated from lift-ops after one year. What’d you do after that?
I delivered pizzas for Dominos for a few years at night, just yo-yoing up and down the mountain. From there, I started painting in the summertime and collecting unemployment in the winter. Then I started my own painting thing, and took the winters off. Now I’m doing the trail thing, and I’m still taking the winters off.
How many winters have you taken off?
I haven’t had to work winters since 1990.
What do you have to do to make that happen?
You know, honestly, not a whole lot.
So, just live simply?
Yeah, live very simply. Everything that I owned could fit in my car, or at least for the first 15 years. I lived in Kent in a one bedroom apartment with a buddy I met at Crystal, and that’s where my base would be at.
Tell me about Crystal. What’s kept you there for so long?
The terrain is phenomenal and you can’t beat the lift service. I like Washington. The people I met back then, I still talk to daily. We meet up and ski four, five days a week. It’s a hardcore scene up there. The place is beautiful, the views are great, and the people are the nicest people in the world.
Pick one favorite day.
There were four or five of us one day and it was maybe boot deep. You knew it was going to snow a bunch and as the day kept going on, after lunch, it was maybe waist deep. And shoot, by 2:30 p.m. it was chest deep. It was five guys on the whole hill. Just one of them days. By 3 o’clock the ski patrol shut us down.
You’ve had a camper up there. Do you live up there all season long?
No, no, no—I’m married now. I’ve got to come home at least once a week. You just time the storm cycle and stay there for a couple weeks on end. You have to pull out of there every 15 days, leave every couple weeks, regroup, and pull up again.
To ski as much as you do, that’s all you want in life, right?
It’s kind of the dream. I’ve been living it for quite a while now.
Are you going to be skiing with the same buddies in another 25 years?
I’m guessing we’ll be skiing if everyone is, knock on wood, healthy. There’s old timers up there and they’re in their 70s and still skiing together. That’s what we’re going to be. All the way to our 80s. God damn, you get a free pass when you’re 75 now. A free pass, and hell, social security to ski on all winter? Can’t give that up.
So who should I talk to next?
I can throw a name out there from Utah. Karl Kelley used to be the chef up at Crystal, he had a little singlewide up there that we’d call the Karlton and he’d let us all sleep on the floor. When I went to Utah, he was the head chef at the Peruvian, so when I showed up, he was like, dude, here you go, you want to cook omelets three days a week for three hours in the morning? Here’s a place to stay. Here’s a pass. He’s a nice dude.