PHOTO: Garrett Grove
Mom and Dad and Big Sisters
Two years old, cold, and wearing weird red-and-white plastic ski boots, I clutched her leg like I snuggled my teddy bear. I wouldn’t let go. But, according to the dusty four-by-six-inch photos in the “Christmas 1985” album, my sisters pried me away from mom’s leg to the domain of the hatless daycare ski instructor. Mom and Dad went on to ski by themselves, stealing a few hours away from us kids and sneaking in a few whiskey hot toddies (so remembers Mom). The next few years, as I grew, I inherited hand-me-downs from my two older sisters. My middle sister, Anne, was especially gifted at skiing from a young age, so the Mighty Mite ski racing-induced competition started early. Eventually, though, as do most little boys with two big sisters, I had to find my own posse.
Like all things being a ski grom, it came down to the 3 o’clock jump run. That’s where the tradition started and lifelong friendships formed with ski-racing buddies who cared more about boosting jumps than bashing gates. We’d build jumps in the dark, using headlamps to ensure the takeoff was poppy enough to clear the gap. And somehow, the namesake of our crew became “Vespucci,” as in Amerigo Vespucci, the Italian explorer who founded the New World. In turn, we’d raise our ski poles in a “V” and yell, “Freedom!”
Three years our junior, Riggs and Co.—the torchbearers of Team Spokane Freeride influenced by our hometown’s Kris Ostness—passed down the privilege of carrying on the institution to us high school sophomores. It was 1999 and as much as The Continuum, Global Storming, Area 51, and 13 influenced our ski-obsessed state, Ostness’ zany Wind-Up Films got us reaching for Kevin’s parents’ Sony handheld camera and grabbing mute and flipping off poorly constructed kickers. We also edited a 14-minute short video, called “Team Spokane Freeride II,” during zero hour before school and at lunch in the school library. The VHS sits in my mom’s TV chest. The four of us—Kevin, Colin, Billy, and I—skipped school to ski, and when we weren’t skiing, we tried to impress girls with our TSF II exploits, making them watch clips edited to Red Hot Chili Peppers and Pearl Jam.
Whether it’s the dorms or ski-stoke craze induced by the community of Bozeman—and in particular, the intensely communal vibe of Bridger Bowl—we skied and skied hard more than at any other time in our lives. Before Bozeman featured chic shops and farm-to-table restaurants complete with subway tile and exposed Edison light bulbs, the ratio of horny college boys to horny college girls was about 9:1. So instead of chasing girls, we hiked the Ridge and skied the deepest powder of our lives; clipped tickets in the Big Sky parking lot to lap the park; and traveled to nearby Grand Targhee for $10 single-lift-ride tickets to boost the cliffs off the backside, and then skinned and hiked around Teton Pass. Collectively, we swear we’ve never laughed more in our lives.
When you get the call to work at The Skier’s Magazine, a “job” of sorts, you’re the luckiest person in the world. The honor of meeting childhood heroes—skiers, photographers, writers, and editors—and then skiing with them makes for lifelong friendships. You truly feel you’ve arrived, not because you’re getting paid to write about skiing, but because you’ve discovered a collection of humans who identify with skiing and the culture as much as, if not more, than you. They’ve devoted their lives to documenting the sport not because of money, but rather because they can’t not live their passion on the daily. It’s intoxicating.
The Ultimate Ski Partner
Suddenly, you find yourself and your passion changing. Not that you care less, so much as something else that’s even better replaced it. In my case, a woman—a soul mate. She had never skied before meeting me. Eventually, I got her on skis, into a ski lesson, and, because she’s an amazing surfer and possesses uncanny balance and athleticism, she now feels the blissful happiness derived from the gravity of the ski turn. And there you are skiing an intermediate run with the love of your life and you couldn’t be happier. Like, truly happy.
John Stifter was the editor at Powder from 2012 to 2015. In honor of the magazine’s 45th anniversary, we’re asking past editors to answer two questions: Why is skiing important? Why do we ski? This story originally published in the December 2016 issue of POWDER (45.4). Subscribe to the magazine here.