Pay It Forward: Steve Fratella

On not working in the winter, the simple life, and the singlewide

Steve Fratella and his trailer, regulars in the Crystal Mountain B Lot. PHOTO: Matt Small

Steve Fratella and his trailer, regulars in the Crystal Mountain B Lot. PHOTO: Matt Small

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.

One storm day of many in 25 winters. PHOTO: Matt Small

One storm day of many in 25 winters. PHOTO: Matt Small

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.

Expert on the simple life. PHOTO: Matt Small

Expert on the simple life. PHOTO: Matt Small

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.

Home, sweet home. PHOTO: Matt Small

Home, sweet home. PHOTO: Matt Small

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.

Add a comment

  • Hugh Gren

    This man is an amaaaaaazing person, friend ,athlete and oooooohhhh boy what skier!!!!

    • Luke oo

      HUGE GRIN! these Crystal stories verify that I’m missing out – love this series! and who better to start with –

  • WVskiing

    Glad to see my tax dollars are assuring this guy can have fun

  • BigSkyPow

    PowerMag, I think you really missed the mark to what “Pay-it-Forward” means. Pay-it-Forward is when someone does a good deed then repays it by doing a good deed to/for someone else. What it is not: recognizing a dirt bag (not negative term) to then recommend another dirt bag that is living off of society’s money, to then contribute to an article where they are glorified. I work year round so I can support this guy’s skiing and pay for my own? Yes, I would love to take the winters off to ski everyday, but I don’t want to live off of other people’s money when I am more than capable of working (you’re welcome). I’m not saying this guy isn’t cool or nice or whatever, but seriously… this article should not be titled “Pay-it-Forward,” but more like… “Biggest Local Dirt Bags.” Why is this guy amaaazing? Maybe that should have been highlighted to how he positively contributes to society. Does he volunteer? I read this magazine often and this is just a poor “article”.

  • Dr tom

    I would have to agree with majority of notes above. This dude is definitely not my hero. Wouldn’t life be great if we could all be self-absorbed!

  • todd chapman

    This guy has a good gig. Why the hate? All the ski sites have so much hate. The porn sites have nothing but love. Take a lesson from the pervs.

    • Hugh Gren

      Todd, you nailed it…….Sensitive people here don’t understand the TRUE feeling of freedom in the hills and to be lost somewhere you don’t mind being lost:-) Steve is my HERO and I’m proud to yell that towards your way Doctor Tom!

  • TLUV

    I know Steve, very well. He works his ass off every summer to save money for the winter, sometimes working multiple jobs, 7 days a week. He doesn’t collect unemployment every year.
    He has rescued five dogs. The most current one, found in a park, severely burned, left in plastic bag. If you needed some food or a place to stay at Crystal his door is open. He is stellar part of the community! Pay the Love Forward. People who love to ski, who have created a lifestyle in which they can ski as much as they can, people who aren’t trying to make money skiing, people who living this lifestyle that finds them happiness.
    “Be kind; Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Plato

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