This story originally appeared in the December 2019 (48.3) issue of POWDER.
When Spencer Harkins walks into the bar, he does more than light up the room—it’s akin to blinding illumination. With a penchant for skiing in jeans, and locks that would look at home onstage during Van Halen’s Fair Warning tour, the 28-year-old is an unmistakable presence in Utah’s ski scene. That used to have as much to do with how hard he partied as how hard he skis.
Harkins spent his early days racing in New England before he transitioned to urban and park skiing, eventually heading West to spend summers skiing at Mount Hood. In 2014, he moved from Massachusetts to Salt Lake City, doing whatever it took to ski powder and get by—coaching park, waiting tables, valeting cars—you name it.
He joined the lineup of Powder Week ski testers in 2015 when then-editor Matt Hansen texted the wrong number, mistakenly inviting Harkins to join the Powder Union. Harkins showed up anyway.
It was a fortuitous mistake for all parties and a prime example of how Harkins’ magnetic personality draws people in—especially if those people share his passion for skiing, like Pit Viper co-founder Chuck Mumford, who hired Harkins as the brand’s Magistrate of Marketing in 2017. On the road for work, Harkins spent countless nights closing down the bar and partying hard in the name of selling sunglasses. It eventually became hard for him to establish appropriate boundaries with drinking and sliding on snow.
Everything came to a head after a particularly rowdy night in the summer of 2018 after which Harkins decided to take a year off from drinking. More than a year has passed, and he hasn’t had a drink since. Skiing, however, he’ll never quit.
I haven’t always wanted to work in the ski industry. I didn’t always dream of working in the first place. I just knew the ski industry was the only place I would be able to work.
I stopped at the bottom of LCC to pick up Chuck Mumford, who was hitchhiking. My old Subaru was already massively overloaded, but I crammed him in there.
For the first time in my life I crafted a professional cover letter and resume. I landed an interview, brought a live crab to them as a gift, and everything fell into place.
I owe [my job] to the connections I made while chasing the ski dream. I didn’t meet people because I was looking for what they could provide for me. I met like-minded people because of our shared passions.
I was getting paid to party. Late nights took their toll and I started having to admit that drinking was having a negative impact on my life. I’d stay up for multiple days at a time.
[Skiers] live life to a higher level of enjoyment. But I’d forgotten why I loved to ski because I’d start drinking after a couple runs in the morning.
I didn’t know anybody my age that was partying and spending as much time on the road as I was who had quit drinking. I didn’t have a mentor or anyone to talk to about sobriety and it sucked. I want others to know that I’m here and available.
I was worried I wouldn’t want to be social, but it all boils down to what’s important: making memories and spending time with the right people.
Skiing is the best it’s ever been. Not only am I stronger than ever, but my only focus on the hill is enjoying skiing for what it is at it’s core.
My life choices are not a blanket solution. Not everyone who drinks has a problem or is a problem drinker. Just because going sober is working for me, doesn’t mean it’s the only answer.
I always start a day at Alta with a run on High Boy, the longest consistent pitch on the hill. Out of respect for the run, I have a no-stopping policy.
Alcohol was just a distraction. Removing substances has allowed me to experience genuine love for this incredible community.
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